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May 13, 2018 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: Details on the UFC/ESPN deal, more

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 May 14, 2018



Thumbs up 11 (02.8%)

Thumbs down 362 (92.8%)

In the middle 17 (04.4%)



Seth Rollins vs. The Miz 348

A.J. Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura 23



Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair 201

Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe 62

Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss 53

Strowman & Lashley vs. Owens & Zayn 42

Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass 12



Thumbs up 144 (77.0%)

Thumbs down 0 (00.0%)

In the middle 43 (23.0%)



Kenny Omega vs. Hangman Page 109

Cody vs. Kota Ibushi 54

Okada & Ospreay vs. Tanahashi & Kushida 21



Romero & Sho & Yoh vs. Smith & Archer & Iizuka 116

Liger & Tiger Mask & Taguchi vs. Nagata & Narita & Oka 13

Owens & Yujiro vs. Tsuji & Umino 12



Thumbs up 253 (100.0%)

Thumbs down 0 (00.0%)

In the middle 0 (00.0%)



Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi 207

Will Ospreay vs. Kushida 43



Sho & Yoh & Romero vs. Iizuka & Taichi & Michinoku 73

Naito & Evil & Bushi & Hiromu & Sanada vs.

Suzuki & Archer & Smith & Desperado & Kanemaru 21

Tiger Mask & Liger & Taguchi vs. Uemura & Narita & Umino 14

Yujiro & Owens vs. Nagata & Oka 13

Goto & Yoshi-Hashi & White vs. Robinson & Finlay & Elgin 9


Based on phone calls and e-mails to the Observer as of Tuesday, 5/8.


The first of what is expected to be two major media deals for UFC television/streaming rights in the U.S. market was announced on 5/8 with UFC and ESPN agreeing to a five-year deal worth $150 million per year.

The deal will be largely for streaming rights to 15 shows, although there are other things involved in the deal. The amazing thing about the price is that ESPN is paying that kind of money, essentially $10 million per live event, and not even putting the shows on television, and instead using it as a major loss-leader to drive ESPN+, the company’s new streaming service.

The deal is a landmark one for sports because it shows how much a media property is willing to pay for what is essentially a second-tier major sport for streaming rights that on paper make no economic sense, because of the feeling of needing to build and establish a streaming platform for the long haul.

According to those close to the situation, the deal was closed last week and both sides agreed to announce it as soon as possible. ESPN wanted it out that they had signed a major player for their streaming service, and UFC wanted it out that they had signed a deal that placed the market value of a non-PPV live show at $10 million, since it still has its television deal being worked on.

This deal will go into effect, as will the new television deal, on January 1, 2019, after the exclusive deal with FOX expires at the end of this year.

ESPN has started ESPN+, getting into the streaming business with a service that will cost $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year. The new deal also includes other UFC products including the Dana White Tuesday Night Contenders shows, with the first season of the new deal starting in June 2019. There will also be prefight and postfight shows for those 15 live events broadcast on the platform.

The belief within the industry is that UFC would also sign a television deal with FOX or another network, as there are talks with at least two networks ongoing for the remainder of the package which would television rights. FOX had offered in excess of $200 million for that deal. Sources at FOX told us last month that their deal, which was for $200 million or more, was still on the table, and they expected a split deal. Those they have been in talks with most notably include FOX, CBS, NBC and Turner Broadcasting. NBC’s offer also included wanting live events for streaming content, although it was primarily a television deal for NBC Sports Network.

A combined $350 million or more deal would more than double the $168 million that FOX paid last year for UFC programming. It also will lead to generating more than enough profits to pay the huge interest payments for the nearly $4 billion purchase of the company. This deal also pretty much establishes that WME IMG did not overpay for the purchase of the company. It also establishes that even though UFC has clearly lost popularity since 2016, that they will not only have no economic issues, but will be economically stronger than they have ever been, until the end of 2023, and far longer than that unless the rights fees for sports content bubble bursts, and with more players out there and UFC considered a valuable sports property, the entire structure would have to change for that to become an issue.

We had been told, as were those internally, that while a $400 million total price was floated as what the value was on UFC rights in the United States in 2016 at the time of the WME IMG purchase of UFC from the majority ownership of Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, that they were really expecting closer to $250 million for U.S. rights on the new deal. The original feeling was that they would be disappointed at less than $250 million, a figure they’d considered okay. The feeling is they would be turning cartwheels with a deal worth more than $300 million, and the belief is with the two deals, it will be a minimum of $350 million.

Another key aspect is that they got a five-year deal and not a longer deal, which has its risks if sports rights collapse, but if they don’t, gives them the opportunity to test the market if there are more suitors in only five years. Most of the major sports rights deals have been for longer periods of time.

The deal does not include any UFC programming actually airing on ESPN or ESPN 2, although the hope and belief is that the relationship will lead to more ESPN coverage of UFC, making it a bigger deal in the sports world. ESPN will obviously heavily promote the shows on their streaming service, and ESPN will also have rights to stream PPVs on their platform at the regular PPV price, meaning they have a financial incentive to help promote the biggest shows and get over the top talent. Since ESPN is considered the place where Americans go to get their sports news, the company’s big events being pushed heavier will greatly help the profile, and ESPN plugging that the big shows are available on PPV from ESPN+, is considered another way to promote their streaming service that will also benefit UFC.

This is also exceptionally good news for WWE, because the escalating price of UFC content, even with the company declining in ratings significantly last year as well as declining in popularity, would indicate WWE programming, higher rated and not declining any longer, would also have similar value, perhaps even greater, particularly with both FOX and NBC Universal wanting it.

For UFC to generate $10 million for a PPV show, it would need to do about 286,000 buys, something only a handful of bigger names will be able to generate. At this point, it becomes a better deal for UFC to sell its shows, whether to ESPN or FOX, except for the loaded PPVs, which vary by the year. For this year, so far, only two events, UFC 223 (Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Al Iaquinta) and UFC 220 (Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou and Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir) would make sense under 2019 economics to be put on PPV as the fights would generate more money with less having to be earmarked for advertising, given it’s the television partner who bought the shows and would be primarily responsible for the promotion.

But with fewer PPVs, that also means less fighters will likely get the big PPV bonus revenue, lessening the economic value of being a secondary draw on a big show or a champion who isn’t a Conor McGregor or a Jon Jones but can get PPV points.

The new shows will be called UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night.

In addition, ESPN+ subscribers will get other original content from UFC, access to UFC’s full archive of programming as well as Countdown shows, press conferences and weigh-ins.

Even though there is some overlap in content, UFC will be keeping Fight Pass. The plan for 2019 is still to produce five or six Fight Pass exclusive shows and original UFC content, as well as streaming a number of other promotions live and taped events from around the world.

ESPN+ will be able to put up all UFC events from 1993 to 2018 up for archives. From 2018 on, they will be able to add their events, but not the events from another partner, nor PPV events, which Fight Pass will have. ESPN+ also won’t have access to the non-Fight Pass library of boxing, kickboxing and other MMA promotions like Pride, Strikeforce and WEC.

There will also be a second tier ESPN+ deal that would allow fans to order the individual Fight Pass live events.

In addition, the ESPN+ deal is only for the United States, so UFC has the rights to sell these shows internationally or put them on Fight Pass outside the U.S.

ESPN+ will stream the entire shows from start-to-finish meaning no prelims. Without television time cues, they won’t be stalling to fill time and only do one fight every 30 minutes, like FS 1 does.

If we go with the idea the average UFC fan that subscribes to ESPN+ will go monthly rather than annually, that would mean the average viewer would be $60 per year. To make that make economic sense, ESPN+ would need 2.5 million regular UFC fans purchasing the service, a ridiculous number since Fight Pass has hovered between 400,000 and 500,000 subscribers for not quite as many shows. It’s also ridiculous because UFC rarely gets 2.5 million viewers these days for shows that are free on FOX.

Nevertheless, part of this is ESPN trying to establish a new service and thus were willing to pay a figure that can’t be economically justified by normal business value, and were willing to because everyone is getting into streaming at some level. UFC is in a good place. WWE is in a good place as well, as while they haven’t fallen into this level of a sweetheart deal, they did get the Facebook Watch deal earlier this year (WWE received a number slightly below $1.6 million for the 12 week series).

There are a number of unanswered questions about this, including how many shows will FOX (or whatever other provider they do business with) get and how many PPV shows. There is also the question as to the other provider regarding if they will want entire shows, or only a certain number of television hours and the rest reverting to Fight Pass.

This would appear to mean a lot more UFC events. ESPN’s 15 shows and Fight Pass with let’s say five, makes 20. If you figure another 20 shows between cable and broadcast, that’s 40 right there, not including PPV. Realistically, with the market value of the fights being what they are, UFC should run PPV only for main events that they believe can top 285,000 buys. That number depends on the stars and the year, rather than the idea of six, eight, ten or 12 as a decided upon number ahead of time.

In 2017, UFC ran 39 total events, broken down as 12 PPV shows, four shows on FOX, 18 on FS 1 and five on Fight Pass.

While this is a good money number deal and UFC will increase its rights fees, and profitability greatly, there is a flip side.

While everyone looks at the monetary value of television, the secondary value of television is that it reaches the most people and expands your fan base. Even with PPV, you have the prelims on television to get people interested in buying the PPV, and people get together to watch PPVs and go out to sports bars, as well as illegally stream the events. The number of people who watch the big PPVs, even if they do 500,000 buys, is likely more when you add it all up than watch events on television. For a big event that does 1 million buys, it’s likely multiples. The reality is, even if the number is the same, an event people pay for and watch in groups has more staying power than a regular show. But the visibility of those shows is what creates and keeps the fan base.

If UFC has 15 events per year on ESPN+, that is a lot of events that the fans who don’t pay for ESPN+ won’t be seeing. The price isn’t so high that the fan that wants to see everything won’t order. But for people who pick and choose, it also becomes easier to not choose to see those fights if you have to pay for them, because between the bigger PPVs and shows on television, all but the most ardent fan gets more than enough UFC product.

That means those fighters will be getting over to a much smaller audience, meaning it’ll be harder to make them into bigger mainstream stars at a time when UFC hasn’t been able to make a new mainstream star in years.

While this will hurt Fight Pass, the $150 million per year will make up for that in multiples.

There is also the value to ESPN, but this has to be viewed as a loss-leader as there is no way you are getting 2.5 million exclusive MMA fans to purchase this service. But at some point, economics hold true and things have to change with loss leaders. But this is locked for 2019 to 2023, so that’s a discussion for many years in the future.

The main and most important take from the WWE’s first quarter investors conference on 5/3 is that the company is financially healthy, and going forward, things will be healthier than they’ve ever been in history.

When the WWE Network was launched, one of the thoughts were that eventually it would be successful but it may start out slow and there could be tough years, but that the increase in TV rights fees should help with all the start-up costs and such.

Four years later, the WWE Network has plateaued for the most part, at about 40 to 50 percent of what the company was projecting it would reach. But because of the continued escalation of TV rights, the company is almost “idiot-proof” as far as many years in the future goes.

They will almost undoubtedly set an earnings record this year, likely break it next year, and by 2020, be so far above any previous era in history. This is a completely different business than before. It’s no longer about pleasing consumers primarily or creating scenarios for intriguing matches. That is still part of it, but even if they fail at that, they are fine.

The company expects to announce its next U.S. television contract, which would begin in October 2019, between now and September.

That also means the drive to produce the best product possible is weakened, but that’s a different issue.

But that’s the most important take on business. A lesser important take is that WWE has changed how they report business and it’s quite clever.

In the past, the promotion of the huge increases in social media numbers could be seen through because in the countries where those numbers are the strongest (India most notably), the revenue streams like WWE Network or live events were not up.

Vince McMahon, ont the call, primarily focused on YouTube numbers, which were up 56 percent year-over-year.

So they no longer report revenue based on region.

One analyst did ask how YouTube numbers are up so much but that hasn’t led to subscription increases for the network at anywhere near the same level. A key note is also that YouTube viewership is 80 percent outside the U.S., while network subs are 73 percent from the U.S.

One of the biggest questions of the WWE Network has been the huge amount of people who get it and cancel. From talking to people who run other streaming services, some more successful, some less, nobody has the same percentage of churn.

So they no longer report churn.

The biggest question regarding the WWE Network itself for the first quarter is how, in aggressively trying to up the paid subscription numbers, they have sent offers to prior subscribers for 99 cents for a three month subscription to get them back. The key is that people who only want the WWE Network seasonally, for the Royal Rumble to WrestleMania period, could get that entire period for 99 cents, a bargain of all bargains, even though some would be willing to spent $29.97 easily.

Last year’s promotion of WrestleMania free for new subscribers ended up driving less growth than the year before. But at this point the fear is without offering a free sample, numbers will drop and stockholders will ask questions. This year, the paid numbers were up very slightly from last year, but the bigger question is how many of those subscribers are at $9.99 per month and how many were at 33 cents per month. While I didn’t expect WWE to break that down, in theory, the revenue from network subscriptions alone would give us a hint.

Except we don’t know. Instead, we have a number that looks up, as the network category generated $46,752,000 in revenue this first quarter as compared to $45,390,000 last year in the same quarter, so a slight increase. But instead of breaking down network subscription revenue, it is one category that includes PPV revenue (which increased 25 percent in 2017 and there was one more PPV event this quarter than last year) and rights fees for network programming in countries where the network is actually a television station, and those numbers escalate like all rights fees. In addition, the profit margin, nor the expenses of the network itself, are broken down any longer.

Instead, the network when it comes to profitability, is in the media category, which covers television rights fees, network subs, network rights fees, PPV, advertising, sponsorships, movies and home videos.

In particular, that allows the huge increase in television rights to completely camouflage how the network is really doing, and also hide the struggling movie division, which is taken out of being a line item. The movie division has always been under scrutiny for being the least successful aspect of company business.

What we do know about that large media category is that OIBDA increased from $25.1 million to $43.6 million.

The keys to why profitability is up is that they spent $9.4 million less during the quarter in the category, with the key money savers being not producing a season of “Holy Foley!” like last year, and not doing the U.K. championship tournament, which was a huge expense last year.

Rights for Raw & Smackdown were up $6.6 million. Advertising and sponsorships were up $2.8 million. The addition of Mixed Match Challenge added revenue as well, which while not specifically noted, would have been close to $1.6 million.

On March 31, 2018, the WWE Network had 1,623,800 paid subscribers and 57,000 free subscribers. As noted, those who paid 99 cents, or $2.99 for three months in total, are listed as paid subscribers. On March 31, 2017, those numbers were 1,573,500 paid and 123,000 free. It appears that the 99 cent gimmick for three months got a lot of people who would have signed up for one month for free, to pay 99 cents to get three, and make the paid number increase by 50,000, which really isn’t a lot.

For a further breakdown, in the United States, on March 31, 2017, there were 1,164,700 paid subscribers and 92,000 free subscribers. On March 31, 2018, there were 1,190,200 paid subscribers and 42,000 free subscribers. Outside the U.S., on March 31, 2017, there were 408,800 paid and 31,000 free. Outside the U.S., on March 31, 2018, there were 433,600 paid and 15,000 free.

However, in the three days after leading up to WrestleMania in 2017, there were 87,000 people who signed up to pay and 165,000 who signed up and got WrestleMania free. This year, with nine days in April to get the Mania subscribers, they added 184,000 paid, but many of them at a gimmicked price, and got and had another 259,000 who signed up and got WrestleMania for free. Unfortunately, the expectation in August, after we find out how many stuck around and paid the full price vs. how many canceled, and how effective the 99 cents and free promotions were, is that information will not be available.

The company expects that the subscription numbers after WrestleMania, with more people ordering the show both for free and at the discounted price, will lead to a bigger increase than in previous years during the second quarter as people forget to cancel or enjoy the product enough to keep subscribing at full price. To a degree, we will get the paid numbers as of June 30 at that time to compare, but not nearly in as much detail as in prior years, and they are still offering 99 cents for three months after WrestleMania, which would lead to even those numbers being misleading.

Overall in quarter one, the WWE generated $187,721,000 in revenue and recorded $14,835,000 (actually $14,035,000 due to currency adjustments of overseas revenue) profits. In 2017, they recorded $188,444,000 in revenue and record $888,000 (actually $897,000 with currency adjustments of overseas revenue) in profits.

The profits were enough to cover the dividend of $9,894,720.

However, the company is recording things differently as far as licensing revenue is concerned. In actuality, this quarter would have been even stronger by the old methods, as they would have recorded $200 million in revenue by the old method. In that sense, that revenue will be recorded throughout the rest of the year.

Another reason for added profitability for this year is the lower tax rate. The tax rate Donald Trump got voted in reduces corporate taxes from 35 percent to 21 percent.

The news led company stock to increase to $42.59 per share on 5/9, its all-time record, giving the company a market value of $3.286 billion. While that is roughly 101.4 times 2017 earnings, based on the revenues and earnings that should be expected starting in 2020 with the new TV contracts, that is not an overvalued price.

While nothing was said about the Saudi Arabia deal, that is supposed to be addressed in the August call. JP Morgan, which would have accurate information, listed the value of the deal for this year at $20 million.

Another interesting business note revealed is that WWE does own stake in Alpha Entertainment, Vince McMahon’s company that will be the parent company for the 2020 relaunch of the XFL. The way it was portrayed in the stock filing is that WWE sold all the XFL trademarks and intellectual property to Alpha Entertainment in a non-cash deal which gave WWE an ownership percentage of the company. So Vince McMahon stating the two will be completely separate isn’t the case, and that also explains John Saboor of WWE making calls in Orlando regarding the idea of an XFL franchise in that city.

Outside of the network, the Media Division breakdown listed Raw & Smackdown rights fees for the quarter as $65,505,000, up from $59,185,000 last year. Advertising and sponsorships rose from $9,381,000 to $12,232,000. That would be the combination of television and other media sponsorships (keys being Mars, Snickers, Geico, Cricket Wireless, KFC and Rocket League), web site revenue, YouTube revenue and all other things lumped together.

The other category, which would be non-Raw and Smackdown television, including the various reality shows, as well as the movie division, from $7,286,000 to $8,884,000. Most of that gain was revenue from Facebook live for Mixed Match Challenge. So WWE probably got about $100,000 to $125,000 per episode from Facebook.

Live events dropped slightly, with $39.2 million for the quarter last year and $36.6 million this year, coming from tickets, merchandise, advertising, and sponsorships.

The key numbers in that were live event revenue dropped from $32,096,000 on 95 shows to $30,770,000 on 99 shows. But the Alamodome attendance of 51,000 to a degree made up some of the reason last year was higher.

Overall, the 99 house shows this year averaged 5,415 tickets sold while the 95 shows last year averaged 6,000 tickets sold. If you factor out both Royal Rumble events from the averages, you get 5,300 this year and 5,500 last year. But this year also had one extra PPV event which would get to a 5,200 average, so factoring out all differences attendance realistically was down 5.5 percent from last year.

Venue merchandise dropped from $7,088,000 last year to $5,851,000 this year, which is a combination of sales last year before the end of March at Fan Access, and lower attendance at the live events meaning less merchandise sold.

Last year the company did 91 North American shows and averaged 6,000 tickets sold (with the Alamodome inflating the average) at $51.15 average or a or a $306,900 gate as well as another $60,540 in merchandise sales. They also did four shows outside North America that averaged 4,000 tickets sold and $346,120.

This year they did 99 shows, all in North America, and averaged 5,415 tickets sold at a $52.88 average for $286,353, and average another $56,136 in merchandise sales.

Merchandise sales per fan at live events went from $10.09 last year to $10.40 this year.

Profit in live events in total declined from $3.7 million to $2.9 million.

The key reasons for the decline are lower ticket sales even though running more shows, and a decline in merchandise that came from a combination of fewer people at the shows and also last year some of the WrestleMania activities that included merchandise sales took place before the end of March, while this year, with the show a week later, everything would have been in the second quarter.

Consumer products declined from $20,097,000 to $9,267,000. Most of that drop has to do with how revenues are being accounted for. By last year’s methods, the number would have been $19.0 million, so while down, it wasn’t down as much as it looks. There was a decline in toy sales.

E Commerce, which is mostly WWE shop revenue, increased from $7,921,000 to $8,460,000. Last year they had 172,700 orders (1,919 per day) that averaged $45.58 per purchase. This year that figure was 182,600 per day (2,029 per day) at $45.99 per purchase.

If you combine consumer products, venue merchandise and WWE shop revenue, the profit margin for the quarter fell from $14.4 million last year to $6.0 million this year, much of which is because of how they are recognizing consumer products revenue.

The company is projecting $150 million in OIBDA in 2018, which also reflects the Saudi deal.

They are projecting $30 million to $34 million in second quarter OIBDA, up from $24 million during the second quarter last year. Much of that increase will be due to the Saudi Arabia deal.

They are projecting a second quarter average of 1.77 million paid network subscribers and all the gimmicks of the first quarter (plus the later WrestleMania date) leading to an eight percent increase from the same quarter last year.

The company has $284,871,000 cash on hand in cash and short term investments, down from $297,444,000 three months earlier. The company’s current debt is $208,950,000, almost the same as the $208,858,000 three months earlier.

For the first quarter, Raw averaged a 1.94 same night rating, up two percent from a 1.91 a year ago. Smackdown averaged a 1.56 rating, down three percent from a 1.61 a year ago. The key to the increase is the Raw 25 show, which greatly inflated the average. Take that out of the mix and Raw would have averaged 1.85 the first quarter, also a decline of three percent. Keep in mind that the household rating takes out the effects of fewer people getting USA Network, since it’s a percentage of the homes that have access to the station that are watching the show.

For the first quarter of 2017, 77.3 percent of homes watched Raw live and 77.4 percent of homes watched Smackdown live. In 2018, those numbers were 76.7 percent watched Raw live and 76.5% watched Smackdown live.

The declines in attendance, ratings, licensed products and merchandise and the small (and partially gimmicked) increase in network numbers came while social media followers were up 16.0 percent and Internet video views were up 55.8 percent.

The company earned $36,000 in revenue from its ownership of Tapout, down from $102,000 during the same quarter last year.

One investor did ask about running in Saudi Arabia, asking how they balance out leading the charge on women and doing business in that region.

“So, I think everyone is familiar with the fact that we obviously have been very vocal about our female performers and obviously rebranding them to WWE Superstars,” said co-President Michelle Wilson. “We feel real good about our continued commitment to that front. As you know and we know, there are many countries around the world where we perform, where again, we are respectful of the cultures that are there. But we certainly hope to be part of the change moving forward. I think some of you know in advance of our event in Saudi Arabia we had the first-ever women’s match in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi (as noted many times, that simply isn’t true, as TNA had the first match from an American promotion more than seven years before WWE) and I heard the stories there, I was not there, personally, but when you hear our two female performers, Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks talk about that experience and looking into the audience and seeing little boys and little girls and the crowd actually chanting, `This is hope,’ for us, we believe, over the long-term, that we will be part of the change that will happen in some of these places. But again, we have to be respectful of the cultures where we perform and we plan to do that. So again, over time, it’s a ten-year partnership and as George (Barrios) mentioned we have a significant foundation in the Middle East, not just men, but women as well. And we’re proud and happy with how the event went, and we will continue to treat those cultures respectfully while hoping to be part of some of the change that will be taking place.”

WWE had its worst PPV in recent memory with a Backlash show on 5/6 that had issues with everything from match quality to match layouts to timing.

A four-hour show is fine when it’s great, but it’s painful when it’s bad. This was particularly painful because in four hours, because of an added segment that wasn’t needed and dragged forever, a number of matches were cut short.

In all, aside from the Seth Rollins vs. Miz IC title match, nothing really worked. The crowd started leaving at the end of the A.J. Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura match, a very good match with a double knockout finish from simultaneous low blows. The finish would have been fine 15 years ago in leading to a rematch, but people don’t accept those finishes as well nowadays. But it was worse because it was coming nine days after a double count out finish between the two.

Braun Strowman, the most popular wrestler in the promotion, was largely met with apathy, particularly in laying out Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn after beating them in a tag match.

The crowd pretty much revolted against the Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe main event, with negative chants and even faster exiting as the arena was clearing out as the match was going on. It was probably the single clearest protest to date against Roman Reigns, as the usual heavy booing in the New York market for years just made him come across as a major star. The match itself wasn’t bad and the layout probably would have worked if it wasn’t past 11 p.m., the prior part of the card hadn’t sucked and it was two other guys in the ring. But a long neck lock and chinlock sequence by Joe early on led to people leaving in droves. When Reigns finally got the pin they immediately switched to a crowd shot trying to show people cheering, and instead, you saw people rushing out.

As far as the agents who laid things out, Bayley vs. Ruby Riott was T.J. Wilson (Tyson Kidd) and Dean Simon (Malenko). Miz vs. Rollins was Wilson. Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss was Sarah Stock. Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton was Marty Lunde (Arn Anderson). The Elias segment was Joseph James (Scott Armstrong). Bryan vs. Cass was James Gibson (Jamie Noble) and Simon. Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair was John Laurinaitis (Johnny Ace). Styles vs. Nakamura was Gibson. Braun Strowman & Bobby Lashley vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn was Simon and Mike Rotunda. And Reigns vs. Joe was Michael Seitz (Michael Hayes).

\ The weird part is for the first 45 minutes or so, this was one of the hottest PPV crowds in a long time. The Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, was nearly sold out, with 12,000 fans. They were hotter for the Bayley vs. Ruby Riott preshow match than any preshow match in recent memory. On the flip side, it was also technically the weakest preshow match in recent memory, but the crowd was so hot they didn’t care.

Rollins vs. Miz was an strong match, which was made even better because the crowd was so easy.

It was the next match, a women’s title match with Nia Jax defending against Alexa Bliss that ruined the atmosphere. Unlike the first women’s match, which wasn’t good, this also wasn’t good, but people didn’t care. Worse, they had Jax doing such an obviously badly scripted and badly delivered interview about bullying. The crowd booed her slightly at first, as they could see through the message. Perhaps coming off last week the company felt they had to push their charity work harder, but a post-match interview by Nia Jax isn’t the place to do it. She started with the corporate buzz words and it was dying with te crowd. They clearly didn’t expect this reaction. Then, when she was done, Michael Cole started pushing how the company has done anti-bullying rallies, which only made it worse.

The issue with the dual-branded PPV shows and both brands having championships is the tendency to load up on matches. Even on this show, neither tag team title, the cruiserweight title nor the Universal title were defended. Yet they have an eight-match main show and went way long. The idea of the Elias segment was to get more people on the show and entertain them between matches, but it went far too long. The Styles vs. Nakamura finish presumably is to set up another gimmick match. Last man standing has at least been talked about. The idea to follow up that flat finish with Strowman made sense. I think it didn’t work because they’ve made Owens & Zayn into comedy characters that nobody saw as having a chance, and it was too late for a comedy match. Putting Reigns on last on a long show with a major market crowd is a risk that backfired. This never-ending fight between WWE management and its fans is at times entertaining to watch from the outside, but it’s run its course. The fact attendance isn’t down by much, and the people who complain the most spend the most dollars isn’t lost to the company. They have their top guy and really, Strowman wouldn’t do well as a long-term champion, Styles is about to turn 41, and they clearly don’t see Daniel Bryan as their guy no matter how the fans react. I suppose you could go with Seth Rollins. But for a company that booked Finn Balor poorly in the run up to his title shot, and then imagined he wasn’t over enough to headline and pulled it, changing the top is difficult. Worse, Reigns not winning on the last two shows, with the idea that it’ll make people get behind him with the idea management is screwing him, is a storyline nobody is buying.

Next is Money in the Bank on 6/17 at the Allstate Arena in Chicago. With six weeks to go, there is little obvious direction other than Styles vs. Nakamura for the fourth straight big show. Brock Lesnar isn’t booked on this show either, meaning the earliest he’s wrestling is Extreme Rules on 7/15 in Pittsburgh. With 401 days as Universal champion, that seems to indicate a minimum reign of 468 days come his next defense, beating the so-called modern record of 434 (for the WWE title) that C.M. Punk holds. Obviously the Greatest Royal Rumble finish was done to build up another match with Reigns. But unless the idea is Reigns wins, then goes heel, and feuds with Strowman, Balor, Rollins and others, it’s not going to be good. And the idea of Reigns vs. Jinder Mahal, which is likely at Money in the Bank, will work in getting Reigns cheered, the reality is they ruined a lot of popularity of Lesnar to get Reigns cheered. The end result is that Lesnar lost a ton of steam and Reigns gained none.

There will be two, or perhaps three Money in the Bank matches. There will be a men’s match and women’s match, each with eight people, four from Raw and four from Smackdown.

The men’s has Strowman, Miz, Rusev and Balor in so far. The women’s has Charlotte Flair and Ember Moon. There have been a lot of promos on the shows from tag teams, and the idea of a tag team Money in the Bank match has been floated around. But thus far it has not been announced.

1. Ruby Riott pinned Bayley in 10:05. They did an angle before the match where Bayley and Sasha Banks argued about Bayley not helping Banks on Raw, and Banks said Bayley was on her own here. It was sloppy in spots. Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan were at ringside and Logan interfered early. The crowd was really into this but it was sloppy. Bayley tackled Morgan off the apron, but Riott kicked her once and then hit the Riott kick for the win. *1/2

2. Seth Rollins pinned The Miz in 20:30 to retain the IC title. The crowd was really hot at first. Miz was sloppy early. Miz DDT’d Rollins on his head. Miz later took Rollins’ leg out and Rollins landed face first on the apron. Miz did a crossbody off the top and Rollins rolled through, picked him up and gave him a uranage. Rollins followed with a splash off the top rope more than halfway across the ring. Rollins started stomping his foot to get people to chant “Burn it down.” Rollins went for a tope but Miz nailed him with an elbow. They were on the apron and Rollins went for a jumping knee, but his knee hit the post. Miz went for a figure four. The crowd was very hot here. Rollins reversed and Miz reversed bak. Miz hit the skull crushing finale twice but Rollins kicked out both times. He tired one off the middle rope but Rollins escaped. After a series of reversals, Rollins hit the curb stomp for the pin. ****1/4

3. Nia Jax retained the Raw women’s title beating Alexa Bliss in 10:17. Jax was throwing her around. Bliss injured her left shoulder but it wasn’t that bad as she was back working by Wednesday. Bliss knocked her off the ropes to the floor and hit a DDT on the ring steps. Jax tried a Samoan drop off the middle rope but Bliss kicked her leg. The finish saw Bliss go for twisted bliss, Jax caught her and hit a Samoan drop for the pin. Next came the weirdest thing. Jax did a post-mach interview. The crowd was booing her lightly even at the start, but it got worse. She said that this win was for everyone who had been bullied. A few people were clapping but most were disinterested. It got worse. She said that it’s okay to be different, then started doing WWE corporate buzz words and was dying out there. She said that if you’re good enough, you should never change for a friend or a boyfriend. She said that in the end, a bully always gets their ass kicked. This just died. Then Michael Cole started talking about all the anti-bullying rallies WWE does. This took the show down a lot. *1/4

4. Jeff Hardy pinned Randy Orton to keep the U.S. title in 11:47. This was just a match. The prior bout took the crowd out of it, and even though these are two of them most popular stars, they never got it going. Orton dropkicked him off the pron and gave him three back suplexes on the barricade. This was slow paced, which isn’t a bad thing, but the crowd wasn’t with it. Orton then did an endless chinlock spot which did get the crowd up for the comeback. It really was too slow for this crowd. Hardy won with a twist of fate and swanton. I don’t think people thought it was the finish, even though Hardy always wins with it, figuring Orton was too big a star to lose like that. **1/4

Next was the long Elias segment. The fans cheered him big. He said he was good friends with Bruce Springsteen and said the only thing Springsteen regrets is that he’s from New Jersey. He didn’t get much heat for that as the New York crowd isn’t going to fall for stuff like that so easily. He eased leaving. The New Day came out with Big E with a drum from a marching band. Woods said they wanted to walk with Elias, but Elias said he was a solo act. Elias said that some day maybe they could open for him but this wasn’t that day. This segment felt like it had lasted forever. Aiden English came out and the crowd did get up for his singing “Rusev Day.” Rusev came out and called Elias a bootleg Bob Dylan. No Way Jose came out with a Conga line that included Apollo Crews, Tyler Breeze, Fandango Dana Brooke, Titus O’Neil and Bo Dallas. Then Bobby Roode, who we last saw was being carried out on a stretcher on a spot they killed by showing the replay. Roode was fine, and hit Elias with a DDT. The crowd did react big to Roode. Then everybody danced. English wanted to join the Conga line and Rusev got mad at him.;

5. Daniel Bryan beat Big Cass in 7:44. Corey Graves said that if tanning was a skill, Cass would be among the greatest of all-time. Not much here. The crowd chanted “We Want Enzo.” Good luck on that one. Bryan did some running dropkicks. Cass did some clotheslines. Bryan won with a head kick and the Yes lock submission. Cass tapped right away. Cass attacked him after the match, giving him two Biel throws on the floor while the crowd chanted “You tapped out.” Cass left him laying after a running kick. **

6. Carmella beat Charlotte Flair to keep the Smackdown women’s title in 10:00. Charlotte kicked her in the head. It missed and Carmella sold it. Carmella grabbed her belt and wanted to leave. Charlotte threw her down on the floor by the hair and threw her back in the ring. Charlotte missed a plancha when Carmella moved. Carmella hit a superkick and then used a long chinlock. Charlotte used a backwards dropkick to break a double armlock. Carmella worked a dated style like she was from the Moolah era, past using a triangle. The finish saw Charlotte go for the moonsault, Carmella moved and Charlotte landed on her feet and hurt her knee. Carmella kicked her in the hamstring and rolled her up. If Charlotte was going to lose like this, why did they break Asuka’s streak because in the end, it ended doing nothing for anybody. *

7. A.J. Styles retained the WWE title going to a no contest with Shinsuke Nakamura in a no DQ match in 21:08. They were having a very good match, and then the finish came. They brawled outside the ring. The fans were chanting for tables. Styles tried a springboard off the barricade but Nakamura kicked him in the knee. Nakamura used a Kinshasa off the middle rope for a near fall and a landslide for another near fall. Nakamura brought in chair but Styles decked him. Nakamura hit a high kick and reverse powerslam on the chair for a near fall. Nakamura went for the Kinshasa. Styles threw a chair at his knee. The chair bounced off Nakamura’s knee and hit Styles in the cheekbone, opening up a big cut on the left side of his face. Styles was bleeding badly but got Nakamura in the calf crusher. Nakamura reversed into a triangle. Styles hit a sliding forearm to the back of the head and an ushigoroshi for a near fall. Nakamura hit a low blow. Styles came back with a low blow of his own. They traded shots and both kicked the other low and both went down. The ref counted to ten and neither got up. ***1/4

8. Bobby Lashley & Braun Strowman beat Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn in 8:39. The crowd wasn’t much into this. They worked on Lashley and built for Strowman’s hot tag. Strowman ran over Owens. But he missed a charge and ran into the post. Talk about an overdone spot. Zayn wanted to run away and leave Owens. Owens pulled him back. Zayn threw Owens in the ring and walked out on him. Before leaving, he slapped Owens. Lashley then hit a spinebuster on Owens and followed with a delayed vertical suplex on Owens for the pin. Zayn was still out there and yelled at Lashley & Strowman. But Strowman picked up Owens and Zayn wouldn’t save him, so Owens got powerslammed. Zayn went to leave but Strowman ran after him, threw him in the ring and powerslammed him. That got no reaction. *1/2

9. Roman Reigns beat Samoa Joe in 18:03. Joe attacked him and they brawled before the bell. Joe put Reigns through a table with a uranage. Joe threw Reign over another table. Joe started twisting Reigns’ neck. This is when the crowd turned on it. Tons of people were leaving, others were chanting “This is boring” and chanting for C.M. Punk. Joe hit an elbow suicida. Reigns missed a Superman punch and Joe got a choke. Reigns escaped and hit the drive by. Joe got the choke again but Reigns was out with a front rolling cradle and hit a Superman punch for a near fall. This led to a “Rusev Day” chant. Reigns hit the spear but Joe got his foot on the ropes. He went for another spear but Joe punched him and went for a choke. Joe got another choke and Reigns made the ropes. Reigns then hit a spear and got the pin. *1/2

Kazuchika Okada broke the all-time record for consecutive IWGP title defenses, beating Hiroshi Tanahashi, who he was tied with, in one of the best storytelling and psychological matches you’ll ever see to headline the second Wrestling Dontaku show on 5/4 in Fukuoka.

Okada had tied Tanahashi’s record set in 2011 and 2012, which ended at 11 when Okada beat him on February 12, 2012 in Osaka. All of the booking of the title, notably the question regarding Okada not losing to Tetsuya Naito at the Tokyo Dome, were done to set up this storyline. The negative was it was in Fukuoka, which is traditionally the company’s most difficult major city when it comes to crowd reaction. And the first night of Dontaku didn’t give a positive indication that this was the place for an epic match, because the crowd was very tough. For whatever reason, on the second night, they were hot, and they were on fire for the match.

Okada vs. Tanahashi was less reliant on big moves than any of their previous matches, but it was all about the story of Tanahashi trying to win back the title, his selling his injuries, and it was really a classic in pacing and making every move mean something. The only match I could compare it was with one of the Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawada matches (I think it was a 1997 match, and not the 1994 match that a lot of modern fans feel was the greatest match of all-time) when it was slow, deliberate and every single movement built to the story. Okada kept going for the rainmaker and Tanahashi ducked and slapped him, and when you were sure he wasn’t hitting it, he did, and got the pin at 34:36 of a match that felt much shorter because of how well it was paced.

Unlike most classics, this wasn’t about kicking out of finishers. It was the story that got over and not the spectacular spots. It was a safe match by modern big bout standards. Tanahashi three times went for the winning regular high fly flow. The first time, he missed. The second time Okada got his knees up. The third time, Okada got to his feet and hit a dropkick as he came off.

Another notable point is that even though the Fukuoka International Center Arena was sold out with 6,307 paid, and I believe set the company’s gate record in the building they’ve been running forever, to see Okada go for the record, probably 90 percent of the audience was behind Tanahashi with the story of wanting to instead see Tanahashi preserve his record. Okada played the role perfectly with subtle heel facials to make the story all about Tanahashi’s quest rather than his own quest. It was really something to see because it was the example of protecting a championship (only the elite get to hold the title under Gedo’s booking) and building of wins, losses and records. There have been some ups and downs in recent weeks with New Japan, but this was a Gedo booking plan that turned out to perfection.

This put the 11 match series between Tanahashi and Okada in Okada’s favor with five career wins to four for Tanahashi and two draws.

But just as big news came after the match. In Okada’s interview, he talked about how Tanahashi was like a teacher and a tough guy. He noted his goal was to set the record and he’s accomplished that goal. He then listed the 12 guys he had retained his title against to set this record. He then brought up that last year in Osaka had a 60:00 draw with Kenny Omega. He asked for Omega to come out.

Okada said they’ve had three singles matches with each winning one and the other being a draw, meaning they are tied. “It can’t end that way. Last year was a 60:00 draw. Forget time limits.”

Okada asked for a no time limit match and then Omega asked for it to be two out of three falls. Okada said two out of three falls sounds like fun and Omega left. Okada said that he is now looking to do 100 straight title defenses.

The match was announced as the main event of the 6/9 Dominion show at Osaka Jo Hall, which is one of the company’s big three events of the year along with Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome and the G-1 final.

This in many ways is the ultimate challenge. Omega and Okada had three classics in 2017, all different. But two out of three, a throwback to another era of wrestling, is far more difficult because the crowd goes in thinking that until they finish the second fall, it’s not going to end. CMLL is the last company to do these matches and usually when it comes to the big title and stip matches, I wonder why, because they got the difference in fans and usually rush through two falls to it means something. In the rare 2/3 fall matches done in recent years in the U.S., the rushing through two falls is done most of the time, and in the end, leaves you scratching your head as to why. Plus, by saying no time limit, and going off a 60 minute match, throwing in best of three, that means you have to go long. Okada has been doing long matches almost every time out, but there’s a difference in doing a match that ends up as long as in telling people ahead of time about it. That’s why occasional 60 minute matches are classics, but Iron Man matches that go longer than 30 minutes in this day and age are very difficult to keep the crowd.

The other big angle was the return of Chris Jericho. Jericho had said on at least two occasions he was done with New Japan, but when it comes to Jericho talking about his future (as opposed to his past), you have to go with the idea it isn’t true. PW Insider had broken a few days before that Jericho would be shooting an angle on one of the two shows to set up a match with Tetsuya Naito at Dominion and he was spotted in Haneda Airport.

Obviously Jericho vs. Naito would probably mean more to help the Cow Palace show, which needs for help selling tickets than Osaka will given the Osaka main event. However, Vince McMahon’s reaction to Jericho doing this is an issue since Jericho is still, even though not under contract, considered part of WWE. He can legally do what he wants, but he always tries to keep as good a relationship as possible with McMahon. I don’t know that McMahon was thrilled about him doing a second show, but it’s one thing to do it in Japan, and it would be a very different and more negative reaction if he were to do it in San Francisco.

After a ten-man tag team match with the Suzuki-gun team of Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Desperado losing to LIJ, of Naito & Evil & Seiya Sanada & Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi, they did a deal where Suzuki attacked Naito with a chair. It appeared that was the post-match angle, to build toward Suzuki getting a shot at the IC title he had just lost. Suzuki left the ring. Naito dared him to come to the ring. But Suzuki was pulled to the back. All the LIJ members went to the back and Naito did a promo. He was limping, because of Suzuki targeting his knee during the match, and finally went to the back. In a copy of an angle Jericho did with Rey Mysterio in WWE many years ago, as Naito was leaving, Jericho, dressed as a fan wearing a Bushi mask (fans wearing masks of Bushi, Tiger Mask or Jushin Liger at New Japan shows are not unusual) attacked Naito as he went to the back. He attacked Naito using one of the metal barricades. They ended up in he ring and Jericho unmasked. He had difficulty taking the mask off, and the crowd popped big seeing who it was. Jericho then laid Naito out with a codebreaker. He was putting the boots to Naito. Jericho went for the ring bell. At this point referee Red Shoes Unno bladed Naito. While most would have missed it, it was very visible if you were looking for it. I believe this was the reason the show was so slow in being put on the New Japan World site after the live show ended. If you watched the live show and hadn’t logged out you could still see the show the next day by scrolling backwards to the start, but you couldn’t access until much later as they put matches up individually and edited the blade job out. Jericho hit Naito with the ring bell. Naito was already bleeding before the shot, and he ended up bleeding badly. Considering how rare New Japan uses the blade (Jericho cut Kenny Omega in their angle, before that you had to go back years, but it’s clear New Japan is giving Jericho pretty much free reign to do what he wants), that seemed to get over. Jericho pounded on him until LIJ came out to stop it and surrounded Naito and checked on him.

The 5/3 show, the first night of Dontaku at the Fukuoka International

Center Arena, built around Cody beating Kota Ibushi and Omega beating Hangman Page, drew 4,066 fans. Cody beating Ibushi to me means a Cody vs. Omega rematch is coming in New Japan, whether at the Cow Palace show on 7/7 or down the line. The show was good, but not up to normal New Japan big show standards. The last three matches in particular were great, but the crowd was cold and they had to go to great lengths to get them in. Evidently the attendance with one sellout and one show two-thirds fall was good enough, because they announced that next year they would return with shows on both 5/3 and 5/4 in the same building. My gut says that until they sell out both nights, they won’t be looking at a return to the Fukuoka Dome.

Everything is building to Osaka, which is a 3 a.m. Eastern time start (Midnight Pacific), and this will be the show that directly builds the Cow Palace. The matches announced for the show are Omega vs. Okada, Naito vs. Jericho for the IC title, Evil & Sanada vs. Young Bucks for the IWGP tag titles, and a three-way for the Never title with Hirooki Goto vs. Michael Elgin vs. Taichi. They also announced Rey Mysterio Jr. on the show. Based on the angle shot in Long Beach, I’d guess it to be Marty Scurll or Jushin Liger. If it’s Scurll, they can’t announce it until after the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Since the winner of the tournament normally would face Will Ospreay for the IWGP jr. title on this show, that would be added. If Ospreay wins the tournament, then I’d expect him to face Mysterio. But it could be to give Mysterio a win here and set up whoever the champion is out of this show to defend against Mysterio at the Cow Palace.

As of the first day after the card was announced, the show was almost sold out. The gate for the show was scaled at about $1.1 million, which I believe would be the biggest for an indoor show in the city.

The only title change came on the first night where the Young Bucks & Scurll beat Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa & Bad Luck Fale to win the Never open weight six man titles. On the second night, there was a match with Omega & Ibushi & Tonga Loa & Fale vs. Young Bucks & Cody & Scurll & Page. The match was more about putting Bullet Club for the most part back together again. Omega chased Cody to the back. Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi came out. After some talking, Owens, Yujiro, Tonga, Loa, Fale and Scurll all gave each other the two sweet hand signal. The Bucks were hesitant with the storyline that if they did, they could get sued by WWE (they were only warned about using the signal in merchandise, which is why they changed to one sweet), but then did it. Ibushi walked out of this. So everyone is fine and no longer feuding, except Cody wasn’t in that final scene, nor was Omega.

Two other title matches were teased for the future, which would either be at the Kizuna Road tour (6/15 to 6/24) or the Cow Palace show, which were Jay White vs. Juice Robinson for the U.S. title and Kanemaru & Desperado vs. Sho & Yoh for the IWGP jr. tag titles.

Next on the schedule is the 25th Best of the Super Junior tournament. The tournament is similar to last year, which was the best Super Juniors tournament in history. Those not in from last year are Ricochet, Taka Michinoku, Jushin Liger, Taichi and Volador Jr. They are being replaced by Flip Gordon, Sho, Yoh, Taiji Ishimori and Chris Sabin. All of the newcomers should do well, and dropping Taichi and Taka is a plus. But the story of Liger’s last tournament was a big deal last year that can’t be duplicated. The loss of Ricochet was unavoidable but there’s nobody to replace him. The loss of Volador Jr. is a big loss because he and Kushida were the two big stars of last year’s B block. My gut is maybe less super matches than last year, but also the bad matches should be cut down greatly. Still, there is an argument that the Taichi matches that sucked were a break in a weird way and there is nobody this year who is going to have those really bad but different matches. Taguchi can always to comedy breaks and do the serious matches when they need to be.

The A block has Tiger Mask, ACH, Gordon, Ospreay, Yoh, Ishimori, Kanemaru and Bushi.

The B block has Kushida, Ryusuke Taguchi, Sabin, Dragon Lee, Scurll, Desperado, Hiromu Takahashi and Sho.

On 5/4 after a great match where Ospreay beat Kushida to keep the IWGP jr. title, the played the return of Bone Soldier video. Tama Tonga came out and cut a promo on Ospreay and told him to turn around. A very short masked man, who, from his physique, was clearly Ishimori, was behind Ospreay. He attacked Ospreay and unlike with the Jericho angle that took place earlier in the show, but people didn’t react. The masked man gave Ospreay a vertical suplex dropped into double knees and then unmasked. When they saw it was Ishimori, he got a good reaction, but not a great one. Don Callis said, “I just saw that kid recently,” since Ishimori has been in TNA and held the X title recently before losing it to Matt Sydal.

It was known by a number of people that when Ishimori quit Pro Wrestling NOAH that his next full-time destination was New Japan and to join Bullet Club, and the stuff about moving to the U.S. and trying to get into WWE was apparently just a cover.

Japanese culture is unique in the sense natives aren’t supposed to switch from the company that made them to a bigger company unless it’s an invasion angle or the smaller company is falling apart. Leaving to go to an American company isn’t seen as badly. He is probably at this point done with Impact as well, although that’s not 100 percent but Impact is under the impression that’s the case.

All of the tournament matches will air on New Japan World. The Korakuen Hall shows will air live while the other matches will be uploaded a few hours after completion.

They are broadcasting the opening night on 5/18 free on New Japan World without having to register or anything. All of the live Korakuen Hall shows are the usual 5:30 a.m. Eastern starts. What’s also notable is that Okada, Omega, Tanahashi and Naito are all off the tour.

The first night card is Kushida & Shota Umino vs. Sabin & Ren Narita, Yoshi-Hashi & Sho vs. Lee & Tomoyuki Oka, Suzuki & Desperado vs Taguchi & Toa Henare, Evil & Hiromu Takahashi vs. Owens & Scurll, and B block tournament bouts with Tiger Mask vs. Kanemaru, ACH vs. Gordon, Yoh vs. Bushi and Ospreay vs. Ishimori.

The rest of the tournament is:

5/19 at Korakuen Hall: B block night with Lee vs. Sho, Taguchi vs.; Desperado, Kushida vs. Sabin and Hiromu Takahashi vs. Scurll.

5/20 in Kira is A block with Tiger Mask vs. Yoh, Gordon vs. Kanemaru, Ishimori vs. Bushi and Ospreay vs.; ACH.

5/22 at Korakuen Hall is B block night with Sho vs. Sabin, Taguchi vs. Lee, Scurll vs. Kushida and Hiromu Takahashi vs. Desperado.

5/24 in Shiba is A block with Tiger Mask vs. Bushi, ACH vs. Kanemaru, Ishimori vs. Gordon and Ospreay vs. Yoh.

5/25 in Osaka is B block with Sabin vs. Scurll, Taguchi vs Kushida, Sho vs. Desperado and Lee vs. Hiromu Takahashi (which is likely to be one of the best matches of the tournament).

5/26 in Nagoya is A block with Gordon vs. Tiger Mask, ACH vs. Yoh, Ishimori vs. Kanemaru and Ospreay vs. Bushi.

5/27 is also in Nagoya with B block with Scurll vs Desperado, Lee vs Sabin, Sho vs. Kushida and Hiromu Takahashi vs Taguchi.

5/29 in Tochigi is A block with Tiger Mask vs. Ishimori, ACH vs Bushi, Gordon vs. Yoh and Ospreay vs. Kanemaru.

5/30 in Fukushima is B block with Lee vs Scurll, Taguchi vs. Sho, Hiromu Takahashi vs. Sabin and Kushida vs. Desperado.

5/31 in Hachinohe is A block with Gordon vs, Bushi, Ishimori vs. ACH, Ospreay vs. Tiger Mask and Yoh vs. Kanemaru.

6/2 in Takasaki is B block with Desperado vs. Sabin, Taguchi vs. Scurll, Hiromu Takahashi vs Sho and Kushida vs. Lee.

Both the A and B blocks will be decided on 6/3 at Korakuen Hall. It will be an eight-match card with the final matches for all 16 wrestlers, with Gordon vs. Ospreay, Ishimori vs. Yoh, ACH vs. Tiger Mask and Bushi vs. Kanemaru in A block. B block has Taguchi vs Sabin, Lee vs. Desperado, Scurll vs. Sho and Hiromu Takahashi vs. Kushida.

Looking at this, it looks like the final match in each block is Gordon vs. Ospreay and Hiromu Takahashi vs. Kushida. Lee is unlikely to win the tournament since he’s booked in California for PCW in Wilmington, CA, the day before Osaka. It feels to me that Gordon is a guy they will give a good push to here.


1. Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi beat Yota Tsuji & Shota Umino in 5:33. It was pushed that this past week was the fifth anniversary of the formation of the Bullet Club. A lot of the members, including these two, came out with Bullet Club 5th anniversary kimonos. It was a tough crowd. Umino looked really good. Owens pinned Umino with a package piledriver. *1/2

2. Rocky Romero & Sho & Yoh beat Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Takashi Iizuka in 2:05. Pretty much nothing to this. Iizuka was biting Soh and then grabbed referee Tiger Hattori’s beard. Sho then schoolboyed Iizuka for the pin. The match never got going. After the match, Archer was running wild and choke slammed Yuya Uemura. ½*

3. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano & Yoshi-Hashi & Hirooki Goto & Jay White beat Togi Makabe & Toa Henare & Michael Elgin & Juice Robinson & David Finlay in 10:25. Elgin has cut down to 245 pounds. Yano of course took off the padding on one of the corners’ turnbuckles. Henare looked good here. Finlay and Robinson hit double planchas and Henare speared White for a great near fall. But White came back and pinned Henare after a German suplex and the blade runner. ***1/4

4. Young Bucks & Marty Scurll won the Never six man titles over Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa & Bad Luck Fale in 12:05. Fale has also dropped 30 pounds but unlike with Elgin, it’s not really noticeable. Not much heat but good action, especially Nick vs. Tonga. Tonga & Loa hit the magic killer on Matt, who may be healing up as he wasn’t wearing a weight belt nor selling his back like he’s done all year. Fale splashed on Matt but Scurll saved. Nick did a ropewalk flip dive onto Fale and Tonga, while in the ring, the Bucks went back to more bang for your buck to pin Loa. The finish was real good. ***½

5. Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Seiya Sanada & Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi beat Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi & Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru in 13:36. Naito refused to come out with the IC title belt, saying that there are too many championships in New Japan. He’s back to disrespecting the title he just won. Suzuki attacked Naito right away. Suzuki and Sabre trapped Naito and double-teamed with while switching from one submission move to another on him. Suzuki also used a kneebar. Naito was selling the right knee big. This was a lot better than their title mach last week. Sabre blocked Sanada’s attempt at a Paradise lock and turned it into an abdominal stretch. Sabre also escaped when Sanada got the skull end on him. The finish was clean as Evil pinned Kanemaru with the STO, which is also called Everything is Evil. The Young Bucks came out after the match and said they wanted Evil & Sanada’s tag titles and then laid both of them out with superkicks. ***1/4

6. Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay beat Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kushida in 16:15. This result made no sense to me, because if you have a champions vs. No. 1 contenders tag team match the day before the two title matches, the challengers should logically win, particularly to get over a move that could be used for a title change tease during the title match. Tanahashi and Okada were good, mostly teasing stuff. Kushida and Ospreay were fantastic. Okada tried for a tombstone piledriver on the floor, but Tanahashi escaped and used a dragon screw on the floor and used a Texas cloverleaf on Okada. Kushida put Ospreay in the hoverboard lock at the same time but Ospreay got out and saved Okada. Ospreay did a springboard into a Kushida armbar. The finish saw Okada hit a tombstone on Kushida, a dropkick on Tanahashi and then hit the rainmaker on Kushida. After the match, Tanahashi and Okada did a staredown. Okada was selling the knee from the cloverleaf and the dragon screws. ****1/4

7. Cody pinned Kota Ibushi in 23:36. Cody was selling his neck early. Cody used a front suplex on the apron and a springboard clothesline to the floor. Cody also spit water all over Ibushi and the announcers. Ibushi did a moonsault off the top rope to the floor. This was tough because the crowd was quiet early and they had to work really hard to get them. Cody used a disaster kick for a near fall. There was a great slapping exchange. Cody pulled out a table,. Ibushi gave Cody a double foot stomp onto one of those thick tables and it didn’t break. I think they need to import some American tables because using those thick desk like tables that often don’t break, that makes the match go badly and somebody is going to get hurt. Ibushi went to do it a second time and part of the table broke, and in doing so, sliced up Cody’s back. Cody’s back was cut in two places and it was bruised. Ibushi twice missed his kamagoe knee. Ibushi did a springboard crossbody and Cody was way over the rail. But as Ibushi got in the ring, Cody hit him with crossroads and then hit him with his new finisher, similar to a Gori especial bomb called Dins fire. ****

8. Kenny Omega pinned Hangman Page in 18:23. Cody jumped Omega before the match. Page’s left leg was all taped up. Omega kicked a table into Cody’s face, then used a plancha and Terminator dive on him. Page used a moonsault off the top rope to the floor on Omega and hit the rites of passage on Omega through a table. This table didn’t break the traditional way with a split, but just Omega’s head went through the table which had a head-sized hole in it. Omega was bleeding from the top of the head and his hair turned red as the match went on. Page gave him a DDT on a chair. Omega went for You can’t escape on the floor. Omega was teasing being dizzy from the blood loss. He missed the moonsault. Page did a fall away bridging suplex for a near fall. Page blocked a snap dragon suplex and hit a Pele kick. Page flipped himself into the ring right into a V trigger. That may have knocked Page silly. Omega hit another V trigger and a double-arm piledriver for a near fall, before winning after another V trigger and the One Winged Angel. ****




1. Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi beat Yuya Uemura & Ren Narita & Shota Umino in 6:34. The Young Lions opened with a triple dropkick spot. Tiger Mask was slapping the hell out of Uemura and the crowd was hot. Narita did a great spinning move into a Texas cloverleaf. Taguchi ended up using an ankle lock submission on Narita. Liger also attacked Uemura after the match. ***

2. Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens beat Yuji Nagata & Tomoyuki Oka in 6:11. Nagata was so good here. He had his Nagata armlock while rolling his eyes in the back of his head. Takahashi saved. Owens hit the jewel heist on Oka but Nagata broke up the pin. Owens then hit the package piledriver on Oka. ***

3. Sho & Yoh & Rocky Romero beat Takashi Iizuka & Taichi & Taka Michinoku in 6:00. Iizuka bounced chairs off Sho & Yoh’s back and went back and forth biting them. Iizuka also went after ref Kenta Sato. Iizuka threw Yoh into Sato. Taichi hit Yoh with the mic stand. He also hit Romero with it. Iizuka pulled out the iron fingers, but Romero hit Iizuka with a missile dropkick. Sho & Yoh & Romero did a triple jumping knee on Michinoku, Romero hit a tope on Taichi and Sho & Yoh then hit Michinoku with the 3-K for the win. After the match, Romero said that Sho & Yoh want Kanemaru & Desperado for the jr. tag titles. **

4. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano beat Togi Makabe & Toa Henare in 7:36. Henare was bleeding from the mouth early. Ishii and Henare worked a hard physical style. Yano undid the corner padding and Henare was whipped into the exposed turnbuckles. Good finish with Henare and Ishii trading head-butts and near falls until Ishii hit the brainbuster to win. ***1/4

5. Hirooki Goto & Jay White & Yoshi-Hashi beat David Finlay & Michael Elgin & Juice Robinson in 11:04. Robinson got crotched on the post and Don Callis noted that there goes his late night cardio. A lot of focus on Elgin vs. Goto and White vs. Robinson. Goto went for a spinning heel kick and Elgin caught him in mid-air and gave him a backbreaker. Yoshi-Hashi pinned Finlay after a lariat and Karma. After the match Taichi was choking Goto with his mic stand and hit Elgin with the mic stand. White came from behind and went to hit Robinson with the blade runner, but Robinson blocked it and White bailed out. ***1/4

6. Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Seiya Sanada & Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi beat Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru in 8:31. Suzuki-gun jumped LIJ right away and Suzuki went after Naito’s left knee. He put the knee in a chair and bent the leg at a bad angle. Archer choke slammed Takahashi over the top rope onto Evil & Sanada. The match was all action but too short. Bushi & Sanada did a double plancha and then Naito pinned Kanemaru after destino. After the match was the Chris Jericho angle. It started with Suzuki with a chair going after Naito but he was pulled to the back by the young boys. Naito dared him to come to the ring. Suzuki then attacked Ren Narita and Yuya Uemura. Suzuki ended up being taken to the back. Naito was left in the ring. Naito finally left the ring and was attacked by a masked man who jumped out of the crowd sitting in an aisle seat by the barricade. Jericho hit Naito with the barricade and after unmasking, hit the codebreaker. Naito was bleeding like crazy thanks to Red Shoes. Jericho was slapping around the young boys. ***1/4

7. Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi & Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa & Bad Luck Fale beat Marty Scurll & Young Bucks & Cody & Hangman Page in 8:47. Another quick but all action match. Cody was yelling about being mad that he didn’t get a Bullet Club fifth anniversary kimono. Omega & Ibushi were wearing Golden Lovers T-shirts and Omega wasn’t wearing Bullet Club gear. Omega threw the T-shirt into the crowd and Cody ran into the crowd to get it. The fan who had the T-shirt didn’t want to give it up, so they had a tug-of-war over it and Cody got it. Cody got a lot of heat for that. Eventually he threw it back. Ibushi did a moonsault off the top rope to the floor. Fale climbed the ropes like he was going to do a plancha, but Scurll hit him with the umbrella. Fale no sold and went to put Scurll in the Bad Luck Fall but the Bucks saved him and gave Fale a double superkick. Scurll then went for a body slam, but Fale collapsed onto him for the three count. Crowd was very into all of this. Omega chased Cody to the back, and Owens & Yujiro came out. Ibushi kind of left the ring and everyone else in Bullet Club but Cody & Omega made up. ***

8. Will Ospreay beat Kushida in 23:45 to retain the IWGP jr. title. This was another fantastic match. Ospreay is on a ridiculous role right now, although the comparison of him with Dynamite Kid unfortunately feel more and more spot on. Both men were heavily taped up around the neck. Kushida whipped Ospreay into the barricade but he leap frogged over it. He came back with a springboard off the barricade but Kushida caught him with an armbar. This led to Ospreay selling the left arm. Ospreay did a Space flying tiger drop and a standing shooting star. Kushida went for the hoverboard lock but Ospreay escaped with a German suplex. Ospreay was standing on the apron with Kushida on the floor. Kushida jumped up from the floor, grabbed Ospreay by the end and dropped him headfirst on the floor with a DDT. I wish people would protect their heads and necks. These two would have a totally unreal match every time out for years if they still protected their heads and necks and Ospreay will last so much longer and be better because he’ll learn more to go along with his amazing creativity and athletic ability. Ospreay dove into the ring to just beat the 20 count and save his title. Kushida did a springboard ultra huracanrana for a near fall. Ospreay did a move that I have no idea what it’s called where he spun Kushida in mid-air and face planted him, and next did about eight cheeky nandos kicks. Ospreay got a near fall with an inverted 450. Ospreay hit the Paul Robinson special and went for the Oscutter, but Kushida turned that into another hoverboard lock. Ospreay made the ropes. Ospreay did a standing Spanish fly into a DDT. Both were on their knees throwing elbows at each other and both went down. Then they traded Kawada kicks. Kushida started stomping the hell out of him. Ospreay then hit a springboard diamond cutter, the stone breaker, and got the pin. After the match, the Bone Soldier video played and Tama Tonga came out and they did the angle introducing Taiji Ishimori. ****3/4

9. Kazuchika Okada pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi in 34:36 to retain the IWGP heavyweight title. The crowd was super hot for the start and were behind Tanahashi ending the streak. They used their normal spots and did creative counters. For example, Okada always does the dropkick while his foe is sitting on the top rope. Tanahashi, instead of taking a bump to the floor, held on and was in the skin the cat position. Tanahashi tried to flip him over the top from there, but Okada blocked and instead used a draping DDT. He did another draping DDT on the floor. Okada hit another DDT and a neckbreaker over the knee. He hit the Randy Savage elbow, and went for the rainmaker, but Tanahashi got in his face, and then ducked for a dragon screw. This was slow and deliberate with perfect pacing. They weren’t rushing, and made sure everything meant something. This was really almost a clinic of doing a long world title match that was both off the charts and safe, based on selling. Tanahashi did the high fly flow to the floor, which was probably the most dangerous thing in the match. You have to also give the announcers a ton of credit, as they didn’t miss any key things and Don Callis, who is usually a heel, was leading the audience into being into Tanahashi’s quest and made that aspect feel even more real and significant. They basically made you feel you were watching one of the most important matches in history between two of the best ever. Obviously it was not the former even if it was the latter. Tanahashi ran at him but Okada caught him with a tombstone piledriver on the floor, and then collapsed. Okada barely beat the 20 count and Tanahashi dove in at 19 ½. They traded elbows, and Tanahashi dropped Okada three times in the exchange. Okada missed a dropkick. Tanahashi blocked a flapjack and turned it into a twist and shout and a sling blade. He went for the high fly flow, but Okada moved. Okada then hit a dropkick to the back and another dropkick to the front. Okada tried the rainmaker, but Tanahashi hit the sling blade. Tanahashi did a high fly flow to the back, and went for his winning high fly flow, but Okada got his knees up. Okada hit a German suplex and Tanahashi kicked out at one. Tanahashi ducked a rainmaker and hit a dragon suplex. Okada hit the dropkick and Tanahashi hit the sling blade. Tanahashi went to the top for another high fly flow, but this time Okada dropkicked him as he flew off. Okada went for the rainmaker, but Tanahashi ducked and hit the rainmaker on Okada, who kicked out at one. Tanahashi was slapping him around. He started slapping him hard. Okada’s left cheekbone area was swollen. He grabbed Tanahashi’s wrist, but Tanahashi slapped him. He went for two rainmakers, and Tanahashi beat him to the punch and slapped him again and kept dropping him. Then Okada did hit the rainmaker and that was it. Okada then issued the challenge to Omega and said he would reach 100 title defenses. *****½

UFC and Bellator go head-to-head on 5/12 with a PPV against what is supposed to be something of a major show.

Usually when it comes to situations like this there are one of two things that happen. When the public thinks there’s something big, both sides benefit as people who aren’t regular viewers are drawn to one or the other and it adds viewers. But if there’s nothing special, like with boxing and Bellator two weeks ago, with no big fights that draw the casual audience, you end up splitting the audience into fragments.

The betting line here is it’ll be the latter. Although the undercard has some interesting names, the Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington main event for the women’s bantamweight title at UFC 224, from the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, is the weakest from a marquee value.

Even though the theory is if you beat a big name, you become a bigger draw for it, Nunes’ consecutive first round knockouts of Miesha Tate to win the title at UFC 200 (which did just over 1 million buys although that was more due to people like Brock Lesnar and Anderson Silva) over Ronda Rousey (which did 1.1 million buys) to retain it was followed by her close win over Valentina Shevchenko that died on PPV, with barely 100,000 buys. Pennington is a lesser name than Shevchenko, who beat Holly Holm on the most-watched FOX summer show of all-time, to earn her title shot. Pennington is top contender largely based on the process of elimination. All the other names have either retired or lost. Pennington won a decision over Tate on November 12, 2016, in Madison Square Garden, when it appeared Tate already had her head halfway out the door. Since then, she suffered an horrific leg injury and this is her first fight back.

The PPV undercard has a battle of former champions at the end of their career in Vitor Belfort, who is 41 and who became a different person when they cracked down on TRT, against Lyoto Machida, who is 39. Belfort has said it will be his last fight, but in this day and age where Bellator and others are looking at starting new companies, it’s the old guys with a name that they will probably build around.

As far as television itself goes, there will be one head-to-head hour, from 9-10 p.m. Eastern, and it’s nothing all that notable. Bellator, which runs at the SAP Center in San Jose, will have Bay Area fighter Adam Piccolotto (9-2) vs. Carrington Banks (7-0), a heavyweight bout with Cheick Kongo (27-10-2) vs. Javy Ayala (10-6) and possibly Aaron Pico (2-1), probably the best combination boxer/wrestler in the world as far as skill level goes, who has looked tremendous in his last two fights after an embarrassing debut loss after tons of hype, facing vs. Lee Morrison (19-8).

UFC will be on FX rather than FS 1. It’s a minor difference. The usual audience is used to FS 1, but FX is a higher rated station and it’s actually better because you’ll have more of a casual audience to sell the PPV to. Of course, with the main event, this isn’t the show where that will matter much. But they’ll have Aleksei Oleinik (55-11-1) vs. Junior Albini (14-3) in a heavyweight fight and Cezar Ferreria (12-6) vs. Karl Roberson (6-0).

Bellator’s final two fights, which will go head-to-head with the first two or three fights on the UFC PPV show, will have Jon Fitch (30-7-1) make his Bellator debut against Paul Daley (40-15-2) at welterweight and the final match of the first round of the heavyweight title tournament, with Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader (24-5) vs. King Mo Lawal (21-6). If Lawal wins, and then doesn’t win the heavyweight tournament, he would logically get a light heavyweight title shot. The heavyweight tournament is up for grabs, but the feeling is that Bader is the best actual fighter at this stage of the game, but is a natural light heavyweight.

UFC opens with Fight Pass bouts at 6:15 p.m. Eastern with Markus Perez (9-1) vs. James Bochnovic (8-2), Albert Mina (13-0) vs. Ramazan Emeev (16-3), Thales Leites (27-8) vs. Jack Hermansson (16-4) and Warlley Alves (11-2) vs. Sultan Aliev (14-2).

The prelims on FX at 8 p.m. have Sean Strickland (19-2) vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (18-5), Nick Hein (14-2) vs. Davi Ramos (7-2) as well as Oleinik vs. Albini and Ferreira vs. Roberson.

The PPV at 10 p.m. has Belfort (26-13) vs. Machida (23-8), John Lineker (30-8) vs. Brian Kelleher (19-8), Mackenzie Dern (6-0) vs Amanda Cooper (3-3), Kelvin Gastelum (14-3) vs. Ronaldo Jacare Souza (25-5) and Nunes (15-4) defending against Pennington (9-5).

A marketing survey that Alpha Entertainment commissioned gave some insight into possible directions for the new XFL, which is scheduled to open in 2020.

Among the ideas pushed in he survey is that the face masks would be removed from the helmets. The claim is this would make for cleaner and safe tackling and also so viewers can see the faces of the players and their emotions. Essentially this is Vince’s version of unmasking the wrestlers because a mask hides the face, and the claim that the NBA is gaining groung because fans can see the faces of the players and can’t of the NFL players while the game is in play.

To speed up the game, ideas include no kickoffs and no time outs. There would be a 20 second play clock. The idea is that it would force the entire game into a no huddle offense and they will push that because of lesser time between plays that the XFL players are in better condition than their NFL counterparts.

Teams will have to go for a two point conversion after touchdowns. I think that was one of the few ideas McMahon actually had on this from the start.

The clock will be a running clock that only stops during a change of possession.

They will push the idea of creating a new helmet that will be designed to reduce concussions, playing on the idea of a safer game. Obviously this will result in claims and counterclaims over what truly is safer.

There will be less fouls with the idea of fewer flags that slow down the game and pushing the line of letting the players decide the game.

One of the promotion lines listed was “Warp-speed football reinvented.”

Drastically changing football will be seen by the fan base as gimmick football. It may be entertaining in some ways, but we’ve already had that concept with Arena Football, which had some popularity for a number of years and even though it was a fun game to watch, nobody took it seriously and in the end, owners lost tons of money in those leagues.

Ideas that are good revolve around the marketing, and making the players and the teams more fan-friendly than the NFL.

The idea is to set up each team with a Fan Club type of thing. The fan club will be able to vote on a lot of concepts, like the team colors, the jerseys and post-season awards like Player of the Year.

There will be special sections in the stadiums for the Fan Clubs as well as special sections for families. Before and after every game, the players will be fan friendly, with set up places for fans to meet with players and get photos and autographs.

Rather than tailgating be what it is now, where fans get together, cook food and drink beer, the teams will get involved with more activities before the games start, like lawn games, as well as set up stands that offer craft beer and local cuisine.

Fans will be encouraged to vote on an app for player of the game. There will also be a deal on the app where fans can call plays. It will be a game where if you call a play, and that play is used, you get points based on the success of the play and it’ll be a competition for fans on who is the most successful play caller. The point system was not elaborated on. But the best callers will win cash prizes. The app will also allow fans to play trivia games during breaks. Another idea is having marching bands like at college football. They will also release post-game locker room video interviews like WWE does and there would be a year-round social media aspect to the league.

As noted before, the XFL faces a big challenge because Charlie Ebersol’s spring football league, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) that will be going after the same type of players, will have the same type of eight-team spring schedule, some playoff format, is starting in 2019, while Vince McMahon is starting his league in 2020.

Ebersol will be signing his players to contracts where they can leave if they get an NFL offer, meaning the guys with NFL goals won’t be afraid to sign meaning it gives up their dreams, but they won’t be able to leave for the XFL. A key to this is it will either force McMahon to sign his players to contracts that allow them to leave for the NFL, which means he’ll lose any truly outstanding players that fell through the cracks and he won’t be able to maintain most of his marketable players after a year, or have a lower quality of player because the good players, if money is equal, or even if McMahon plays a little better, would go to the AAF because it doesn’t close to door to the NFL.

Like everything in sports today, the key is television rights. Ebersol has already lined up CBS (which is significant but they are only airing one game the first week of the season and the championship final) and CBS Sports Network (which really isn’t significant and isn’t even rated by Nielsen so we’ll never know the ratings for the show). It will be hard for Vince to get the television he needs and the last time, the ratings were horrible, but the difference now and then is the value to stations of live sports and that horrible ratings in 2001 are good ratings in 2018, let alone 2020.

Nick Busick, a former competition powerlifter who wrestled from 1978 to 1995, including a short stint as WWF regular Big Bully Busick, passed away on 5/8 after a long battle with cancer.

Busick, born June 1, 1954, was 63 years old, with the cause of death reported as leptomeningeal cancer.

Busick was a WWE regular from July to November of 1991, as The Bully. Simply put, management thought very quickly that the character didn’t get over. By September, he did his first job on television in seconds to Sid Justice and he started putting people over regularly in October and with one exception for a Battle Royal, was taken off the schedule, which he later claimed was by choice, by the first week of November (although his last match was in December in a Battle Royal).

“I actually chose to leave and I actually left a little early,” he said in an interview with James Guttman. “It was a combination of things. My kids were starting to grow up and I’d seen that the character wasn’t going anywhere. What I should have seen is that maybe I should have hung around and let WWF, at the time, do what they do best and progress because they may have done something where maybe I could have had a longer career out of it. But I didn’t, and that was then, this is now.”

The truth is the company had given up on him very quickly. I can recall very shortly after he started, when a member of the WWE booking team matter of factly said, “Some gimmicks, like The Bully, they just don’t get over.”

He wrestled most of his career as a journeyman and independent wrestler under his real name, until he got a push with the Global Wrestling Federation on ESPN as Big Bully Busick before coming to WWF.

Busick was well known in powerlifting circles in the 1970s. He grew up in Weirton, WV, not far from Pittsburgh, on Studio Wrestling, the local televison show. His childhood hero, no surprise, was Bruno Sammartino, and he got into powerlifting and could bench press in competition more than 500 pounds.

He did some independent work as well as worked as a television enhancement wrestler on the WWWF television tapings in Philadelphia and Hamburg, as well as in prelims on house shows in Eastern Pennsylvania and West Virginia from 1978 to 1981 when he first got started.

He started as a police officer in that area, and then moved to Atlanta to work on the police force, and started working independent shows in that area in 1985 for Jerry Blackwell’s promotion.

After wrestling he continued to compete in powerlifting. He moved back to Weirton, WV.

His son Branko Busick played college football star at the University of West Virginia, but was kicked off the team after an arrest after playing one season when he was charged with an armed robbery. He later went into MMA. Nick was regularly in his son’s corner. His only listed professional fight was for Bellator on April 21, 2017, where he lost to nationally ranked wrestler Tyrell Fortune via three round decision.

Nick Busick’s major health problems stared when he suffered a heart attack in 2005, and later underwent surgery to attempt to correct the heart problem.

He was diagnosed in 2015 with esophageal cancer, and chemotherapy caused his weight to drop from 265 pounds to 187 pounds. He was told in 2016 that he had beaten the cancer, but in 2017 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent surgery. More recently, he was diagnosed with cancer of the cerebrospinal fluid and was in hospice care at the time of his death.

Takashi Okamura, who built Dragon Gate, a promotion based around small high flyers to where it was at one point the second most popular group in Japan, announced on 5/6, the same day as one of the group’s signature events, Dead or Alive, that he was leaving the company.

Okamura said he was stepping down due to health related issues.

The original Dragon Gate company that Okamura created will no longer oversee the promotion, which will be run as a new company, Dragon Gate Entertainment, Inc. Toru Kido, a member of the Senior Management of the prior company, is now in charge of running operations.

The Dragon Gate Inc. company will focus on the promotion of pro wrestling in China, and be based in Shanghai. Nobuhiko Oshima (Cima) is the new President of the new company. Cima, T-Hawk, Lindaman and Takehiro Yamamura will be moving from the Japanese group to becoming the top stars of the Shanghai promotion, which is known as Oriental Wrestling Entertainment. The two groups will be affiliated and the four wrestlers will at times work on Dragon Gate shows in Japan, but not as regulars.

Cima returned on the 5/4 show in Kyoto at KBS Hall. It was just a one-show thing. He brought with him Gao Jingjia and Scorpio X2, who are two of his top trainees for the OWE. He said he’s been gone for a few months because since last fall, the “old man” as he called himself has been training wrestlers in Shanghai. He said that in China, nobody knows anything about pro wrestling (so much for the idea that WWE is really popular there). He said then when he started training guys, it was hard to have them even get what a three count was and why that would end the match, because the only thing they know if fighting rules. He said guys would be kicking out at four because their instincts weren’t there to kick out at two and they’d be late. He said at first they were all kicking out before even the one count, then he taught them to wait, and then they were kicking out late. Both of the wrestlers he brought in with him for the tag match where he & Jingjia beat T-Hawk & Scorpio X2, were 19 years old and had only been training for nine months. He said it was each man’s second match performing in front of crowds.

Dragon Gate ran the annual Dead or Alive show on 5/6 at the Aiichi Gym in Nagoya, which was built around a seven-man cage survival match where the loser got their head shaved.

The crowd was way down from the company’s past Dead of Alive shows during Golden Week at the Aiichi Gym. They announced 4,500 fans, although the real number was estimated at 3,100. They had usually done in the 4,000 to 5,500 range in the building and had announced crowds of 6,000 to 8,000 for the annual show in the building over Golden week that dates back to 2008.

Ryo Saito ended up pinned by Shingo Takagi with the last falconry in 4:59 when they were the last two left in the cage, so Saito ended up with his head shaved. I believe the rules were that if they went 5:00, as the last two then both would get their heads shaved.

Takagi heavily taunted Saito while cutting his hair and said that he was taking back over control of the Antias group. After the match, Saito admitted that he lost and that he started the fight with Takagi. He noted that Dragon Gate is about factions and since the breakup of the Jimmyz, he hasn’t had a faction. He said he wouldn’t fit into any of the factions they have. He then mentioned K-Ness and Don Fujii, who had come out to help him after his loss, and asked them to make a team that will enable fun and light-hearted comedy remain part of the Dragon Gate presentation. He said that he lost his hair, but the King of Gate tournament starts in two days and said he hoped everyone had a good Golden Week vacation.

This report is from Patrick Tobin.

1. Shun Skywalker & Gamma Problem Dragon & Kaito Ishida beat BxB Hulk & U-T & Hyo Watanabe & Yuki Yoshioka in 11:13 when Skywalker pinned Yoshioka with a moonsault. **½

2. Don Fujii & K-Ness beat Shachihoko Boy & Hollywood Stalker Ichikawa in 7:34 when Ichikawa, the tiny comedy jobber, went for a German suplex on heavy Fujii, and collapsed and Fuji fell on top for the pin. ***

3. Takashi Yoshida pinned Kagetora in 7:34 with the Cyber bomb. Yoshida used to be Cyber Kong and used a power bomb as his finisher. This paid off a storyline of Kagetora, since the breakup of the Jimmyz, trying to find a new faction that would accept him. After beating Kagetora, Yoshida invited him to join the Antias group. He accepted, but that ended up being short-lived. **

4. Dragon Kid retained the Open the Brave Gate title beating Yosuke Santa Maria in 13:11 with the bible, which is a crucifix pin. This match was said to be very good, but not great. Dragon Kid is in his 40s but still is one of the best flyers around. Santa Maria worked as a heel, which works against him because his best stuff is playing this transvestite babyface character that works the gimmick to the crowd, and in going heel, dropped all of that stuff. Dragon Kid actually injured his foot at the house show the day before and could barely walk, and took some pain killers, taped it up and had a really good match. ***½

5. Big R Shimizu & Ben K captured the Open the Twin Gate titles beating T-Hawk & Eita in 18:31 when Shimizu, a former shot put champion, pinned T-Hawk with the shot put spear. Said to be very good but not great. Ben K is progressing greatly and has size and fire and has been compared to a less muscular version of Katsuya Kitamura as a young guy that everyone expects to be a future superstar. He’s still new and green but his fire gets him over and giving him the tag title this early in his career is step one of his long-term push. I was told this was ***½

6. Genki Horiguchi & Kzy & Susumu Yokosuka won the Open the Triangle Gate titles from Naruki Doi & Masato Yoshino & Jason Lee in 17:31 when Kzy pinned Doi with the Skayde schoolboy. This was a fast paced match with all the hot moves, the tradition Dragon Gate mix of Japanese junior heavyweight style mixed with Lucha Libre. ****

7. Ryo Saito lost his hair in a seven-man cage elimination match that also included Masaaki Mochizuki (the current Open the Dream Gate champion), Yamato, Punch Tominaga, Lindaman, Shingo Takagi and Yasushi Kanda. The order of escaping the cage was Lindaman, Tominaga, Mochizuki, Kanda and Yamato, leaving Takagi vs. Saito as the final two, and Takagi retaining the title. This was a long match with a lot of unpredictable stuff. The rules were that nobody was allowed to escape the cage for the first ten minutes. At that point each stable was allowed to come out for five minutes and help their guy or keep one of the other guys from escaping. MaxiMuM came out in baseball uniforms and Masato Yoshino was pitching balls from the stage to the cage walls trying to hit guys who were climbing. Then they did a mini Home Run Derby where Yoshino tried to hit balls as people climbing. Over Generation came out in soccer uniforms and were sending soccer balls from one of those machines that shoots the ball. When the Tribal Vanguard group was out, the Antias group came out and brought a table and chairs and started laying everyone out until Kagetora turned on them and pulled off his Antias shirt to reveal a Tribal Vanguard shirt. When Tominaga was climbing out, Takagi grabbed his pants and held on to them so Tominaga undid his pants, so Takagi was left holding them and he was left in his briefs to escape. When Takagi was left with Saito, Takagi had one of the closest near falls ever after a Dagon suplex. When it was over, Antias joined Takagi in the cage and Takagi said he was taking over the group from Eita, T-Hawk and Lindaman. All of the members of the stable was cutting Saito’s hair.

Smackdown on 5/8 dropped six percent from last week, to 2,293,000 viewers. Aside from Halloween this was the lowest number the show has done since the June 12, 2017 show that went against the NBA final series.

The NBA can’t be used as an excuse as even though the game head-to-head did 4,082,000 viewers, the game the previous week did 5,587,000 viewers, plus last week also had NHL competition.

Smackdown finished 10th for the night on cable.

The show did a 0.49 in 12-17 (down 10.9 percent), 0.61 in 18-34 (down 3.2 percent), 0.81 in 35-49 (down 11.0 percent) and 0.99 in 50+ (down 1.0 percent).

The big drop was women. In the 18-49 demo, men were actually up 0.5 percent from last week, perhaps due to the weaker sports competition this week, but women were down 23.9 percent from the prior week.

The show did 62.0 percent males in 18-49 and 62.8 percent males in 12-17.

Raw on 5/7 had a huge drop of 12 percent, doing a 1.94 rating and 2,682,000 viewers (1.52 viewers per home).

Aside from holidays like July 4th and Halloween, this would have been the fourth lowest viewing audience for Raw in the modern era outside of football season, and all three of those lower numbers came last year against the NBA playoffs.

Part of the decline was the NBA, as there were two games, an early game that did 3,395,000 viewers against the first 30 minutes of the show, and the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors game that did 5,900,000 viewers. The NHL game head-to-head did 2,240,000 viewers. On 4/30, going against NBA and NHL playoffs, Raw did 3,055,000 viewers, the NBA did 4,689,000 viewers and the NHL game did 1,381,000 viewers.

So a lot of the decline was stronger sports competition and some of the decline, based on the weak first hour, was negativity coming off Backlash as people just skipped the show as opposed to tuned on, weren’t interested, and tuned out. It was not a ratings pattern where people thought it was a bad show or tuned out in big numbers as the third quarter drop was less than usual. Viewers per home were also down, meaning that in homes where usually two or more people watch Raw together, by a slight margin, that second person wasn’t watching.

The ratings should continue to decline through the end of the NBA Playoffs.

The first hour did 2,788,000 viewers. The second hour did 2,731,000 viewers. The third hour did 2,549,000 viewers.

The show did a 0.54 in 12-17 (down 21.7 percent from last week), 0.72 in 18-34 (down 17.2 percent from last week), 1.08 in 35-49 (down 16.3 percent from last week) and 1.12 in 50+ (down 5.1 percent).

The key thing as far as who wasn’t watching was it was the women’s audience that was way down, as notable from above, viewers under 49 were way down while those over 50 were down significantly less.

In 18-49, it was 67.4 percent male viewers while in 12-17 it was 59.4 percent male viewers.

As compared to last week, in the 18-49 demo, men were down 14.0 percent while women were down 21.7 percent.

Impact on 5/3 did 299,000 viewers. It’s only the second time since March that they’ve fallen below 300,000. Like with Raw and Smackdown, the numbers have fallen with the strong ratings the NBA playoffs have been getting. This went against both the NBA and NHL playoffs as well.

The third week of the current season of Ultimate Fighter on 5/2 did 246,000 viewers.

Smackdown on 5/1 did a 1.66 rating and 2,436,000 viewers, which is 1.62 viewers per home.

The 4/28 Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir fight drew a total of 1.5 million viewers for its 48 seconds between Paramount, CMT and those watching via DVR through 5/1. For the overall average for the show itself, there were about 750,000 watching live same night and another 80,000 watching over the next three days via DVR.

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CMLL: Volador Jr. & Flyer (Flyer is Volador’s nephew) won the A block of the Gran Alternativa tournament on 5/4 at Arena Mexico, beating Mephisto & Yago in the finals in 7:49. The show drew 4,000, which is lower than usual. Volador’s team beat El Terrible & El Hijo del Signo in the first round and then beat Atlantis & Magia Blanca in the semifinals. Mephisto & Yago advanced with wins over Angel de Oro & Robin and then Mistico & Electrico (who looked great as a team). As usual, most of the tournament matches were rushed, but not as much as usual as only two were less than five minutes. The other big match was a singles match where Rush beat Ultimo Guerrero using the ropes for leverage to win the one fall match. Guerrero then clotheslined ref Edgar after the match for blowing the call. Rush has great ring presence and gets more heat on a consistent basis than anyone in wrestling (aside from Tommaso Ciampa, but Rush has been getting it for years on end) but usually doesn’t have matches all that good unless the other guys in the match are top quality. But this was real good. In the third match on the show, Los Nueva Generacion Dinamitas (Cuatrero & Forastero & Sanson) all wore half Universo 2000 masks to honor their family member who passed away a few days earlier. Forastero is Universo’s son and the other two are his nephews. Still, they lost to Blue Panther & Kraneo & Valiente. One thing noted to us is that Atlantis must have been hurt because in two matches he looked to be almost immobile and had trouble leaving his feet. He was limping noticeably in the second match. He had returned too quick after knee surgery so he could do the Fantastica Mania tour. He was also visibly frustrated with his inability to do what he can usually do. Even though he was one of the real pioneers of modern high flying in the 80s, his reputation into his 50s was as of an iron man who never got hurt. Now what he did was notable but it’s not like he was doing what the guys today are doing.

The 5/11 show has the B block with Caristico & Star Jr., Ultimo Guerrero & Templario (who are the favorites to take it), Kraneo (replacing Dragon Lee) & Audaz, Cavernario & Coyote, Niebla Roja & Astral, Euforia & Akuma, Valiente & Principe Diamante and Mascara Ano 2000 & Universo 2000 Jr. (another son of Universo 2000 teaming with his uncle but he’s not ready). The finals between the winner of this block and Volador Jr. & Flyer is on 5/18. Two other big matches on the show are Angel de Oro & Mistico & Volador Jr. vs. Mephisto & Ephesto & Luciferno, and a singles rematch with Negro Casas vs. Soberano Jr. in a no time limit match. They had a really good match a couple of weeks back.

Sam Adonis hasn’t been around because he’s been doing other things and working elsewhere. He’s going to All Japan in November and CMLL guys exclusively work for New Japan (although Caristico is able to get around that for whatever reason).

Lluvia, the daughter of Sangre Chicana, who has been out of action since being pregnant and giving birth 18 months ago.

NEW JAPAN: A Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki match, which has been teased for months, will take place on 6/30 as part of Suzuki’s 30th anniversary events. Suzuki is doing events on 6/23, 6/24 and 6/30. The 6/30 show will be at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. It’s a warehouse turned into an 800 seat concert hall that FMW used to run in. The idea is for Suzuki, who is from Yokohama, to use his name to garner local sponsors to put on the show and have all tickets free with the idea that they are giving people in Yokohama a Sumo Hall or even Tokyo Dome caliber main event as a free show.

AXS is doing a through hour special on 5/11 from 8-11 p.m. airing the 4/1 Sakura Genesis show (Kazuchika Okada vs. Zack Sabre Jr., for the IWGP title, Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi vs. Cody & Hangman Page, Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll jr. title and more). The upcoming AXS schedule starts on 5/18, with Jay White vs. David Finlay for the U.S. title and Hirooki Goto vs. Juice Robinson for the Never title. The 5/25 show will have the Minoru Suzuki vs. Tetsuya Naito IC title match and the Seiya Sanada & Evil IWGP tag title defense against Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. 6/1 will have Omega vs. Page and Cody vs. Ibushi plus the Never trios title match where the Young Bucks & Scurll won the titles from Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa & Bad Luck Fale. 6/8 will have the Ospreay vs. Kushida jr. title match and the Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Bushi & Sanada & Hiromu Takahashi vs. Suzuki & Archer & Smith Jr. & Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Desperado match that ends with the Chris Jericho run-in. The 6/15 show will be built around the Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi IWGP title match.

David Finlay is getting married later this month.

OTHER JAPAN NOTES: Big Japan ran a major event on 5/5 at the Yokohama Bunka Gym before 2,126 fans, which is a half filled building. It was a combination of their weapons and hardcore and strong style, the latter of which is heavily praised and the title match sounded great on paper. Masashi Takeda retained the death match title in the main event beating Abdullah Kobayashi in 16:55 with an armbar on a barbed wire board. The match stips were it was a Fluorescent light tubes and nail board and fork board death match. The strong world title saw Hideki Suzuki retain going to a 30:00 draw with Daisuke Sekimoto. After the match was over, Takuya Nomura (the brother of All Japan’s Naoya Nomura) and Fuminori Abe (who sometime works for All Japan) attacked both Suzuki and Sekimoto, which looks to set up a tag team program. Yuko Miyamoto & Isami Kodaka retained the tag titles in a Fluorescent light tubes, tables, ladders and chairs death match over Ryuji Ito & Ryuichi Sekine in 14:48.

Kenta Kobashi announced that for his 6/11 Fortune Dream show at Korakuen Hall, that he would do an in-ring talk show with the fans with Masahiro Chono, noting it’s 15 years since their May 2, 2003, match at the Tokyo Dome where Kobashi beat Chono to keep his GHC title during Kobashi’s legendary two-year title reign.

HERE AND THERE: Auleaga “Neff” Maiava, who is generally credited as the first Polynesian and Samoan pro wrestling star, passed away on 4/21 at the age of 93. Maiava was believed to have been the second oldest wrestler still living before his death (the oldest is believed to be U.K. wrestler/referee Joe D’Orazio, who is 95). He was also the last surviving legend of 50th State Wrestling, a huge part of Hawaiian entertainment, culture and television in the 1960s with names like Maiava, Gentleman Ed Francis, Lord James “Tallyho” Blears, Sammy Steamboat Mokuahi, Curtis “Da Bull” Iaukea and Ripper Collins as the longtime regulars. Maiava was born in American Samoa in 1924, but his family moved to Honolulu in 1926. He started wrestling in Hawaii and then became a name wrestler on the mainland, working just about everywhere in the 1950s. He was credited for being the forerunner to the hard headed islander gimmick that was a staple of that ethnicity in wrestling for decades. In the 1960s, when Pita Fanene Anderson was went to the U.K. to wrestle as Peter Anderson, the promotion thought Anderson wasn’t a good wrestling name for a Samoan. So they went to give him the only Samoan name they knew, Maiava, because Prince Neff Maiava was the biggest name Samoan wrestler. They misspelled it and the name Peter Maivia was born. In 1968, Peter Maivia came to Hawaii as the cousin of Neff Maiava. The two became instant best friends and since that point both families considered themselves as relatives since Peter and Neff were brothers. We’ll have more on Maiava hopefully next week

At the Cauliflower Alley Club Nick Bockwinkel Baloney Blowout on 5/1, president Brian Blair brought up Brickhouse Brown (Frederick Seawright, 57), and noted the club has donated money to his medical battle with cancer. Brown, who was known as a great talker in wrestling, gave an emotional speech thanking everyone, but noted that the cancer has spread to his brain and he was told he only has six months left to live. Blair noted that Rocky Johnson had called him about donating money to Brown, and that Brown, even though he had a long career in wrestling and was something of a star in the Tennessee territory as a heel, that he had never heard of the club. He noted that he had wanted Terry Funk to come up with him, noting that Funk (who trained him at one point) had been calling him roughly twice per week to offer moral support. The club gave Brown its first ever Courage Award. Funk wanted to be there to present it to him but due to his health issues relating to a hernia operation, he wasn’t able to travel, although Funk was called during the ceremony from his home. Funk, who had told us how much he wanted to be there to see Brown, told the audience that he wished he could have been there. Brown’s cancer has taken him down to about 150 pounds. The CAC gave Brown money that allowed him to stay in his home as he was about to be evicted. He said this was one of the best moments of his life with the exception of the birth of his children. Other Southern promotions hae also donated money for his medical care. Brown told the story about how he was in San Antonio and lied to promoter Joe Blanchard about having experience as a pro wrestler, and was put in a television match against Bobby Jaggers. He had no idea what he was doing, but Funk trained him at that point. Also honored on 5/1 was the late Roy McClarity, Kevin Kross as a rising star, Princess Victoria, Tony Storm, Don Luce (who got the historian award that I got last year), Mickey Jay Henson as a referee and Blue Demon Jr. getting the first Lucha Libre award.

The next night, the major banquet on 5/2, was highlighted by Shawn Michaels receiving the Lou Thesz/Art Abrams award. Attending with him and going up to the podium with him were Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Sean Waltman. What’s notable is that the crowd for the week and the banquet was way down, even though Michaels is probably the biggest modern era star to be honored since Steve Austin. A lot of the issues, which had been brought up, was moving it to only a few weeks after WrestleMania, so a lot of people weren’t up for another trip so quickly. The older members who didn’t go to WrestleMania had complained about summer dates being too hot in Las Vegas. Michaels in particular thanked Pat Patterson. Jim Ross was as the M.C., flying to Las Vegas right after his round trip to Saudi Arabia. Baron Von Raschke was the other headliner, getting the Mike Mazurki Award, while Harlem Heat of Booker T and Stevie Ray were honored as a tag team. Scott Casey, who helped train them, introduced them. Greg Valentine, Santana Garrett and Alexis Smirnoff were also honored, while Steve Keirn was honored as a trainer.

Leon “Vader” White had another heart operation on 5/7 due to an irregular heartbeat.

There was a ceremony this past week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to honor Martin Karadagian, a Hall of Famer who was the promoter and biggest star of Los Titanes del Ring, the highly rated wrestling television show that was one of the most popular television shows in the country from 1962 to 1983. The show was so popular that it led to several Los Titanes del Ring movies that he also starred in. The ceremony was held at the Immigrants Square of Armenia on 5/9, a little over one week after what would have been his 96th birthday. His daughter attended. Buenos Aries councilman Daniel Del Sol aid “Karadagian had the gift of bridging the generation gap in front of television, in he cinema and theatre. He was one of the idols and most revered of Argentine entertainment. This is a tribute to keep his memory alive among fans who followed him for so many years.

MLW did a television taping on 5/3 in Orlando before a full house of 350 fans. Santana Garrett pinned Chelsea Green with a DDT. Simon Gotch did his open challenge. This was a takeoff on the old carnival stuff since Gotch’s gimmick is being a carnival wrestler, or the gimmick they’d do with shooters in the 50s where they’d challenge anyone in the stands. Gotch offered $250 if anyone could last five minutes with him and a white belt guy came out. Col. Rob Parker’s Stud Stable of The Dirty Blondes & Parrow beat Jason Cade & Jimmy Yuta & Rhett Giddins. So they mixed two of Robert Fuller’s old gimmicks. He was Col. Rob Parker, which was the name he used as a manager in WCW, but years earlier in Continental, when he was a heel feuding with his older brother Ron, he called himself the Tennessee Stud, since that was Ron’s nickname. Robert & Jimmy Golden then called their heel tag team The Stud Stable. Parrow was pushed as the star of the mach. MJF beat MVP due to help from both Sami Callihan and Leon Scott. Barrington Hughes pinned a wrestler quickly whose name was never announced. Tom Lawlor eat Fred Yehi with a choke. Rich Swann beat Kotto Brazil in a great match. Brazil kept up with Swann. The crowd loved Swann, sung his entrance theme and everything. Swann was so afraid because of Michael Elgin’s fate that it would be his, until finding out there wasn’t. Callihan, who had Leon Scott and Sawyer Fulton (who has been using his WWE name on the indies) in his corner, beat Joey Janela. MJF was at ringside in the VIP section and Janela was thrown into him. This knocked over MJF”s champagne. MJF then attacked Janela which caused him to lose. MVP beat Leon Scott via DQ when Callihan and Fulton attacked MVP. Kotto Brazil tried to make the save but he was beaten down. Rey Fenix beat ACH in a great match. Jake Hager (Jack Swagger), managed by Parker, beat Jeff Cobb. Both men did power stuff on each other but Hager won with the ankle lock. The main event saw Shane Strickland keep the MLW tile beating Pentagon Jr. Pentagon blew mist, but Strickland moved and it hit manager Salina de la Renta, which led to Strickland’s win. Pentagon had used a Canadian Destroyer on the ring apron. They have announced their first TV taping outside of Orlando, moving to The Melrose Ballroom in Long Island City, NY, for a show on 7/19.

All Pro Wrestling will be doing a King of Indies tournament on 7/6 in Daly City, CA (the day before the New Japan show). The eight guys announced are Dragon Lee, Timothy Thatcher, Jeff Cobb, Flip Gordon, Ryusuke Taguchi, Jacob Fatu, Brody King and Titan. That’s a solid and interesting lineup. The original King of Indies that APW did in 2001 led to the creation of ROH and its first generation of stars, giving breaks to guys like Low Ki, Samoa Joe, A.J. Styles, Bryan Danielson, Brian Kendrick, Doug Williams and others.

The CBC Documentary Channel in Canada debuted a documentary on the life of former wrestler Reginald “Sweet Daddy” Siki, 78, who was a major star in the 60s and 70s and still works as a karaoke DJ at a club in Toronto.

The Heroes of Lucha Libre promotion is running a 6/2 show on the USC Campus headlined by Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. L.A. Park in a singles match. Rey Mysterio Jr. and Sam Adonis are both booked on the show. For what it’s worth, the promotion is targeting a crowd of 10,000 people, which, if they come close, would be the first independent promotion in the U.S. to do that in forever. I don’t know if that is viable, as they ran two shows in Ontario, CA and both did about 2,500 fans, which is still great for a U.S. group that isn’t WWE let alone that doesn’t have television.

EUROPE: Progress ran its Strong Style 16 tournament from 5/5 to 5/7 at the Alexandra Palace in London. The three shows combined to sell 4,000 total tickets in the 2,000-seat building. The first say saw Pete Dunne beat Doug Williams, Zack Sabre Jr. beat Chuck Mambo, David Starr beat TK Cooper, Angelico beat Mark Andrews, Zack Gibson beat Joey Janela, Tyler Bate beat Jordan Devlin, Keith Lee beat Flash Morgan Webster and Kassius Ohno beat Chris Brookes. The quarterfinals on the second day saw Gibson beat Dunne via DQ, Lee beat Angelico in one of the best matches of the tournament, Sabre Jr. beat Starr in a match people were talking about as among the best matches in the U.K. this year, and Bate beat Ohno in what was also said to be a great match. Bate suffered a legit shoulder injury in that match. We’re told it’s not serious but it was bad enough that he couldn’t come back to work the third day. Also on the 5/6 show, Progress world champion Travis Banks retained his title, losing via count out to Walter. TK Cooper interfered heavily in this match which led to Walter vs. Cooper the next night. On 5/7, the long building angle came to a conclusion when Mark Andrews agreed that he would fight Eddie Dennis, who has been pushing him for a match. They shot an angle at a concert on 5/5 when Dennis attacked the tour manager of Andrews’ band Junior, so Andrews agreed to wrestle Dennis when he was medically cleared. With Bate out, they did a Wasteman Challenge scramble match, which is a rap battle that turns into a scramble, for Bate’s spot in the tournament. Ohno won, which got him back in. In the semifinals, Sabre beat Lee and Ohno beat Gibson. In a non-tournament match, Janela beat Havoc in a crazy death match. Havoc cut a post-match promo and to a surprise, Will Ospreay showed up and said that he wants to face Havoc one last time which will be the biggest show in company history on 9/30. They also had Christian Michael Jakobi, the wXw promoter, come out and said that his champion, Ilja Dragunov, is challenging Dunne in what the promotion is trying to push as the U.K.’s biggest star against the biggest new star in Europe. They didn’t announce a date, but Progress and wXw are doing three doubleheader dates this summer. For those wondering about best known between Dunne and Will Ospreay, Dunne is ahead over the last 12 months in most of the world, with Ospreay ahead in only Japan, Australia, New Zealand. Toni Storm beat Charlie Morgan to keep the women’s title. Walter destroyed Cooper as revenge from the prior night. Banks then said that Walter would not get another title shot because he would not face the Atlas champion. Walter then said he was giving up the Atlas title for a rematch with Banks. Banks’ facial expressions when Walter said this were said to be something. Sabre beat Ohno in the tournament final which also got raves as one would expect.

Progress announced it would be touring the U.S. from 8/4 to 8/12. They are running shows in conjunction with Evolve on 8/4 in New York, 8/5 in Boston, 8/11 in Chicago and 8/12 in Detroit. They are also running in conjunction with Defy in 8/9 in Seattle. Usually this means Evolve or Defy will run an early show and Progress will run a later show, and a lot of the talent will work both shows.

Five Star Wrestling’s folding has left a lot of talent owed money for numerous shows they had worked. Rey Mysterio Jr., who was the highest paid, was owed the most.

wXw ran a legends and fly-in show on 5/5 in Oberhausen, Germany before a sellout 750 fans using Billy Gunn, Joey Mercury, Mil Muertes, Jay Lethal, Christopher Daniels and Tenille Dashwood. The other gimmick is that it was the first time a women’s match main evented a major wXw show as Toni Storm kept her wXw title beating Dashwood in 10:49 after a strong zero piledriver. The two hugged after the match. They came after the company’s two biggest stars who always have killer matches, as Dragunov retained the wXw title over Walter via submission with an armbar in 24:28. Daniels lost to Bobby Gunns in a match for the Shotgun title. One of their regular top guys, Da Mack, is out for a couple of months with a herniated disc.

Aja Kong, 47, made her U.K. debut on 5/5 for Pro Wrestling Eve in London, pinning Viper after a spinning back fist and an elbow drop off the middle rope. Eve also brought in Meiko Satomura on that show, who lost to Kay Lee Ray.

Jazzy Gabert, who used to be Alpha Female wrestling mostly in Germany as well as TNA, and got over huge at the Mae Young Classic, returned to action on 5/5 in a show for Baltic Championship Wrestling. Gabert was offered a WWE contract but then had the offer rescinded after medicals because they discovered a herniated disc in her neck. She underwent surgery and this was her first match back. Gabert also had done a few MMA fights, both in Europe as well as one fight in Japan for Rizin.

ROH: Being the Elite returned on 5/6 after a few weeks absence. They had pretty much told me a few weeks that it would be brought back but they needed a break from it. I don’t know if this show not being done is what it is, but it did feel like ROH has been flat since the New Orleans show and I’ve even noticed the same thing among American with New Japan interest leading up to Dontaku as well as interest in the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll, etc. It felt like this was rushing back and there was even a joke at the start of the episode about dwindling merchandise sales. But the show is what broke them apart from the pack on the indie scene and I think, with the lesson of it not being around, even for a few weeks, of how important the show really is for all involved. “I feel like I knew we’d eventually come back,” said Matt Massie (Jackson). “It was a conversation we definitely had, though, whether or not to bring it back. Either way, we wouldn’t come back eventually, even if only to do a finale episode because I don’t think the show could’ve ended on a our note. When it ends, it should end with a happy ending in my opinion. We were always leaning toward yes, though. It’s too powerful of a tool. Fan base has gotten massive.” They had to open the show and undo some of those farewell angles from only a few weeks ago. So Marty Scurll’s singing contract fell through (he had supposedly signed a contract with a major label which meant exclusivity and he could no longer appear on the show), but “nobody knows that” and he’s too embarrassed to admit he failed as a singer, but he did tell them it’s okay and he’s worked things out to do the show. The Young Bucks acted like Scurll is now super rich from doing concerts and he was embarrassed and kind of saying he’s not that rich but the deal is they all think he’s a rock star. The show actually started with Flip Gordon taking about bringing the show back and The Young Bucks said the show was over and never coming back, until Gordon brought up how the Young Bucks merchandise sales have been waning in recent weeks and when he said that, they had a funny look on their face and then decided they needed to bring it back. There wasn’t much to it past The Young Bucks sent Kenny Omega a package to Japan and he saw it and packed it up rather than threw it away. Also, Joey Ryan on the show has disappeared after his brutal hotel room beating at the hands of Hangman Page, and Laura Ryan (Laura James), Joey’s wife, called Cody (Cody and Ryan are real-life very good friends) asking if he’s heard anything since Joey has disappeared. They didn’t push the All In ticket sales nor did they have anything from this past week’s Japanese shows or angles, or last week’s ROH shows or angles. They did do a backstage angle with Lanny Poffo. Page met him in Lakeland and talked about how he’s his hero. The implication is that Poffo was famous for something in wrestling lore, basically he was so well endowed and limber that he could suck himself off. So Page asked if he could still do it and Poffo said that even at 63, he could, but Poffo meant he could still write poems and not what Page was thinking. I’m not sure how many people watching BTE would fully understand that segment. But Page ended up opening up the door as Jay Lethal walked by and the door knocked him out. Lethal, after being knocked out, woke up and thought he was Randy Savage, and then saw Lanny, and acted like it was his brother.

All In tickets go on sale on 5/13. There are 9,164 tickets available at ticket outlets but if they sell all available seats it will top 10,000 the way the seating chart is. About 7,500 of the tickets are priced at either $28 or $53 and another 1,100 at $78. The rest are $103, $128 and $153. Matt Cross has been added to that show.

Champion Dalton Castle is really hurting, which is why he’s being protected this week as much as possible. He’s having back problems and has a hand issue as well, which is possibly a break.

Even if Sinclair has to divest itself of WGN in Chicago, Tribune is willing to sell them WPWR-TV in that market, so in the long run, ROH would have television in Chicago.

Brandi Rhodes suffered a broken left clavicle and two other fractures competing for Stardom and continued to work through the injury until finally going to the hospital to get it diagnosed. She will need surgery so will be out of action for what is now estimated at six weeks. She was in particular looking forward to the show in Royal Oak, MI this week because it was the first time she would have ever performed in front of family and friends since she’s from that area.

This is the update on the War of the Worlds lineups. It’s a lot of unique matches involving New Japan guys. There is some disappointment because fans expect the best of New Japan on these tours and there is no Kenny Omega, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii or Minoru Suzuki and it’s really Tetsuya Naito and the LIJ group and Jay White, Sho & Yoh & Rocky Romero from Chaos as well as Jushin Liger as the only New Japan people being brought in. So Naito is really the only real draw and there are no storylines from Japan or ROH for most of the matches. They are just unique new matches that have never been seen before, but aren’t matches people were begging for either. The 5/11 show in Toronto has Jay White vs. Punishment Martinez for the U.S. title, Cody vs. Jushin Liger, Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky defend the six-man titles against Sho & Yoh & Rocky Romero (which probably explains Sho & Yoh & Romero getting the clean wins both night at Dontaku), Young Bucks vs. Super Smash Brothers and Tetsuya Naito vs. Beer City Bruiser. The Bucks chose the Super Smash Brothers for this match. They worked great matches in PWG before I started going.

The 5/12 show in Royal Oak, MI has the Briscoes defending the tag titles against Naito & Bushi, Cody vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Kenny King vs. Matt Taven vs. Jay Lethal vs. Marty Scurll, Martinez vs. Hangman Page, Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley vs. Young Bucks vs. Sho & Yo in a three-way, Daniels & Kazarian & Scorpio Sky in a non-title match against Liger & Cheeseburger & Flip Gordon and Evil vs Shane Taylor. Both of those shows will air live on Honor Club. The biggest show is 5/13 in Chicago which is a TV taping, meaning not on Honor Club. The lineup has Naito & Bushi & Sanada & Evil & Hiromu Takahashi vs. Young Bucks & Cody & Scurll & Page, Briscoes vs. Sho & Yoh, for the tag titles, Silas Young vs. Austin Aries for the TV title (paying off the angle they first shot a couple of months back when Aries first showed up doing his belt collector gimmick with the idea he’s never held the TV title), Sumie Sakai defends the Women of Honor title against Jenny Rose, Jay Lethal vs. Chucky T, Deonna Purrazzo vs. Kelly Klein, and Liger & Cheeseburger vs. Will Ferrara & Rhett Titus.

IMPACT: The reason Johnny Impact/Mundo/Morrison hasn’t been around is that it is rumored he was on he coast for the next season of “Survivor.” Survivor web sites reported John Morrison as one of the stars for the just-completed season that was filmed in Fiji.

. The DJZ & Andrew Everett & Dezmond Xavier vs. Drago & Aerostar & El Hijo del Fantasma match that everyone raved about aired on 5/3. There were a ton of spectacular moves, and really Xavier & Everett in that sense outshined the Mexican trio. Everett did one of the highest moonsaults I’ve ever seen as well as a twisting springboard moonsault off the top rope from the apron, like an Asai springboard, to the floor. DJZ pinned Aerostar with a jumping DDT. The moves were great but it wasn’t super smooth. It was entertaining in the sense of seeing guys do impressive things but was more of a car crash match than anything.

UFC: The planned date at this point for a Russian debut would be 9/15 in Moscow. One would think they’d want Khabib Nurmagomedov on that show, but I’m not sure they’d really want to do a Conor McGregor fight in Russia given how much local value his fighting would have in Las Vegas.

There were reports, and Dana White later confirmed them, that UFC is trying to put together a Georges St-Pierre vs. Nate Diaz main event for the 8/4 show in Los Angeles. Diaz is in talks to return that night as already reported, and they want him in with a big name. The crazy part of the story, and White confirmed this, is the fight would be at 155 pounds. GSP last fought at 185, and while he was too big at that weight, him cutting to 155 makes no sense, particularly since Diaz can and has fought at 170, which is GSP’s usual fighting weight. Perhaps it’s a way to see if GSP can make 155, and then if he beats Diaz, set up GSP vs. Conor McGregor, since that would almost surely be the biggest money fight in UFC history, and McGregor, who has all the cards, may insist of GSP fighting only at 155, where he’ll be weakened, giving McGregor a better chance than at 170. Ariel Helwani said the talks are preliminary and said that both men expressed little interest in fighting the other. White also said they are trying to put together a Luke Rockhold vs. Alexander Gustafsson fight at light heavyweight. Rockhold has talked of moving up, but Gustafsson would be a very tough test for a first fight in a 20 pound heavier weight class. That fight is also said to not be all that close to being finalized.

Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders series on Fight Pass will debut on 6/12 and run for the next eight weeks. Nick Newell and Greg Hardy are the two most notable people that will be fighting on those shows. Like the first season, the shows feature a live card of fights from the UFC Gym with fighters who are not under contract. The most impressive fighters each week, and not necessarily every winner, will then be given UFC contracts.

Paul Felder vs. James Vick was announced for the 7/14 UFC show in Boise, ID. The winner of this will be in good position to challenge the top guys in the lightweight division.

Megan Anderson said she was surprised when she got the call to fight Holly Holm on the 6/9 show in Chicago. I was as well. Anderson is the only real featherweight on the roster except Cris Cyborg, although UFC is going to try and recruit and push them on the fall season of Ultimate Fighter. Still, there is no real talent in that division. Cyborg already beat Holm and Holm would be favored over Anderson. If Anderson wins, of course you get Cyborg vs. Anderson and it would be a bigger fight. But they could still do Cyborg vs Anderson, and odds are good Holm beats her, which takes her out of the title picture, and can they book Cyborg vs. Holm again? Holm is the best drawing opponent for Cyborg, but Cyborg convincingly won the first fight.

Former top featherweight contender Chad Mendes, whose two year suspension for a failed drug test expires in June, will return on the 7/14 show in Boise, ID against Myles Jury. Mendes tested positive for GHRP-6, a Growth Hormone stimulator which is banned in competition. He admitted usage of it.

Cris Cyborg, who has two fights left on her contract, is pushing the idea of facing boxing champion Cecila Braekhus in a boxing match. Cyborg told Kevin Iole she would do the last two fights of her UFC contract, and then wants to move to boxing. She said that after the two fights, she may come back to UFC, but not for a while because she wants to devote herself fully to boxing. Who knows if this is a negotiations ploy given that Cyborg is something of a drawing card, particularly on television and can draw on PPV with the right opponent. Braekhus wants the fight as well because it’s not like she has any name opponents for her in boxing. 

Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez, which is a big featherweight match, was said by Dana White to the Los Angeles Times to have been added to the 8/4 show in Los Angeles. Rodriguez then said that wasn’t the case. Magomedsharipov has an 11-fight winning streak and Rodriguez, whose only UFC loss was to Frankie Edgar, is serious competition.

Alex Caceres vs. Martin Bravo has been added to the 7/6 show in Las Vegas, which is a Friday night TUF finale from the Pearl Theater at the Palms Hotel the day before the PPV.

Justin Ledet vs. Aleksander Rakic was booked for the 7/22 show in Hamburg, Germany.

Teruto Ishihara vs. Petr Yan has been added to the 6/23 show in Singapore. Yan is coming into UFC with an 8-1 record and was the bantamweight champion of Russia’s Absolute promotion. Also announced for that show is Kenan Song vs. Hector Aldana at welterweight, Felipe Arantes vs,. Yadong Song in featherweight and Li Jingliang vs. Daichi Abe at welterweight.

The comeback last week attributed to Al Iaquinta from a post by Dustin Poirier wasn’t written by Al Iaquinta, but someone doing an account that uses his name. However, he did retweet the message.

OTHER MMA: In a story that sounds so sad on a number of levels, Oscar De La Hoya announced that Golden Boy promotions was going to get into the MMA business and he’s looking at signing 48-year-old Chuck Liddell as his new star. Liddell has said that “I’m making a comeback for sure,” and De La Hoya said they are talking business. Both indicated wanting to do a fight with Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz. There’s nothing sadder than watching older fighters do comebacks or watching promotion try and start and build around them because nostalgia is short-lived and nobody has been able to make that work for the long haul.

Rizin ran on 5/6 at the Fukuoka Marine Messe, drawing 7,900 fans in the same city that New Japan had run two shows in days earlier. The show aired from 8-10 p.m. on the Fuji Network and did a 6.1 rating, which would be just over six million viewers. Considering the card, the number was good. The main event saw Kyoji Horiguchi beat Ian McCall in nine seconds with a counter left hook. Horiguchi then said he’d like to participate in an upcoming kickboxing tournament. Tenshin Nasukawa, a kickboxer that they are really high on and has mainstream appeal, stopped Yuko Kakamura in what was booked as a squash match at 1:42 of the second round after three knockdowns under kickboxing rules. Nasukawa then talked about having Rizin create kickboxing championship titles. The next Rizin show will be 7/29 at the Saitama Super Arena.

There is talk of Pancrase doing a nostalgia show later this year for the 25th anniversary of the promotion. Pancrase, which predated UFC as the first MMA promotion in the world, consisting of mostly pro wrestlers that had been part of the PWFG promotion in Japan who broke off because they wanted to do real matches, had its first show on September 21, 1993 at NK Hall in Tokyo. The idea is this special show would revert back to the day one rules which were based on pro wrestling, with no closed fist punching to the head, the kicks with kick pads, pro wrestling boots and trunks, and rope breaks for submissions. Pancrase was actually in Japan considered pro wrestling, just with real competition, at least during those early years since the big stars, with the exception of Bas Rutten, Frank Shamrock and Guy Mezger, were the established pro wrestling stars like Masakatsu Funaki, Minoru Suzuki, Ken Shamrock, Yoshiki Takahashi and Ryushi Yanagisawa.

WWE: TMZ reported that Hulk Hogan’s return to the company is imminent. There has been talk of that since before the 2017 WrestleMania, and it’s always been when WWE felt they could bring him back without it being controversial. Apparently the Saudi leaders asked for Hogan on the show, which makes sense, given the other names they wanted and if they wanted Yokozuna and Ultimate Warrior it would make sense they asked for Hogan. For whatever reason, perhaps risking controversy, they didn’t make that move. It’ll be interesting, given what happened with Jerry Lawler and Ricky Steamboat, if they’ll allow a 65 year old in the ring itself. But as far as a P.R. position goes, as long as they feel he won’t be attacked, given his statements were very public and hard to defend, it’s been in talks for a long time. Hogan did a Philadelphia radio show on 5/5 hosted by Howard Eskin. After the piece was over, Eskin said that Hogan had almost completed a deal to return to WWE. WWE did release a statement about Hogan, saying, “WWE applauds the work Hulk Hogan is doing with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to turn what was a negative into a positive by helping young people learn from his mistake. While he has taken many steps in he right direction since we parted ways, Hogan’ is not currently under contract to WWE.” That statement alone tells you they are close to a deal.

The crazy travel schedule continues this week. After WrestleMania, the Raw crew went to South Africa, came back to St. Louis, went to Saudi Arabia, had this past weekend off until the PPV, worked the PPV and Raw, and then right after Raw flew to the U.K. for a show in Bornemouth, England on 5/9. The Smackdown crew didn’t have it as bad because they had no South Africa tour, but did do Saudi Arabia, came back for PPV and TV this week, and after TV in Baltimore, floor to Oberhausen, Germany to start a tour on 5/10. Next week’s TV will be 5/14 and 5/15 at the O2 Arena in London. On the U.K. tours, the Raw taping almost always sells out to big numbers but Smackdown is hit or miss. Sometimes it can be really bad but London is such a great market it’ll probably be okay. The Raw tour ends 5/19 in Paris and then they return for TV on 5/21 in Albany, NY. Smackdown’s tour ends 5/20 in Munich and then they return for 5/22 in Worcester.

Raw and Smackdown are both tape delayed by a few hours. Tape delay historically means very slightly less viewers, although if the Raw rating goes way down this week (and with the Warriors vs. Rockets game one there is a real chance this could be one of the lowest rated Raws in history) you will be hearing people blame it on spoilers being out. Nothing was announced for Raw. Smackdown/205 Live announced a Carmella Mellabration, New Day vs. Sheamus & Cesaro where the winning team can pick one person to join the MITB match and the debut of Almas. They also announced that the U.K. contracted guys would be on 205 Live.

They will be taping NXT on 5/9 and 5/10 at Full Sail University. There will be for the shows that air from 5/16 through to 6/13, which means five shows. Usually they tape four in a night so they may be taping three shows the first night and some stuff for post-Money in the Bank. You couldn’t tape five shows in one day viably without it really suffering.

E! has renewed Total Divas for two more seasons, which would be the eighth and ninth seasons of the show.

In the article in last week’s issue on Glenn Jacobs’ mayor campaign we listed that the election itself was in November when it is actually in August.

The Tampa Bay Sports Commission is looking at putting in a bid for WrestleMania in 2023, 2024 or 2025 as well as for the Royal Rumble in 2022 or 2023. I wonder if that means the idea is to push for another stadium Rumble show.

The Orange County (Orlando) government just approved a $3 million tourist development tax, which they are going to use to offer incentives to bring both WrestleMania back, as well as the Special Olympics. The taxes will be resort taxes on hotel and motel rooms in the county and that they are interested in bringing WrestleMania back in 2023 or 2025

Paul Levesque did an interview with The Daily Mirror in the U.K. and said that they would be announcing plans for the U.K. division next month when they run the shows on 6/18 and 6/190 at Royal Albert Hall in London with the U.K. King of the Ring tournament. They’ll already have a read on what ITV has done since ITV is doing its tapings 5/10 to 5/12 in Norwich and pretty much everything WWE does in the U.K. is a reaction based on what ITV is doing. Both sides have kept their new talent quiet about who is going where.

Regarding the often-asked question about WrestleMania in Europe, which I’d never say never because at this point it’s all about what the local governments can offer, but still unlikely, this is what Levesque said on Sky Sports: “If you’re going to set am ambition, set it high. As we always say, never say never. WrestleMania is a week-long series of events and the logistics of execution that week along with the week leading into it and the week after it are extraordinarily difficult in our own backyard. Doing that internationally with international crews and international support systems and everything else is a factor of difficulty way beyond what we have in the U.S. Can we get there? Sure maybe over time. We would take steps in that direction and those steps are probably other PPVs. From my point of view, I’d like to bring other meaningful events through WWE, whether that’s NXT or the Untied Kingdom championships, taking international brands and putting them in those markets. As the world becomes smaller and more technologically advanced, it becomes easier to do these things live from different places. From my end, that’s what I’m working towards.” The short version is that WWE really should do a PPV from Europe, although I think that would have been more valuable in the PPV era because you’d increase European buys so much for a one time show in a better time slot for one of those B shows that wouldn’t have done big in the U.S. market anyway. Then again, you can charge so much more in the U.S., so there was that issue of putting it on earlier in the day in the U.S. and messing with the regular time. With the network, you can also do it, but I can’t see the big five events doing it because the costs of doing so overseas and getting everyone there, plus the time slot change, make it difficult. For Mania in particular, that is a long way from happening.

Charlotte will be out of action for a few weeks due to surgery she will be getting due to a ruptured implant. The implant actually ruptured before WrestleMania. She didn’t get the surgery at first because she didn’t want to miss the match with Asuka. The company wanted her to work the Carmella match on the PPV and she then wanted to work the European tour first because it’s a good money tour, but she wants it taken care of after that so she doesn’t miss SummerSlam. She kept it hidden and even did an ESPN: The Body Issue photo shoot and they shot around it.

For the 6/16 Takeover Chicago show, they’ve announced Aleister Black vs. Lars Sullivan for the NXT title and a Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa street fight. They are probably also doing Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream and Shayna Baszler vs. Nikki Cross for the women’s title.

Woods suffered three holes in his tongue, two of them small, on the 5/8 Smackdown show from Cesaro’s uppercut finisher as he was coming off the ropes.

Dwayne Johnson, along with the rest of the cast of “Jumanji”: Welcome to the Jungle,” were nominated for Best On Screen Team for the 2018 MTV Movie and TV awards show.

Dave Bautista has been added to the cast of the movie “Stuber” that FOX is producing where he’ll play an old police officer on the trail of a brutal killer, which meant as an action comedy.

“Avengers: Infinity Wars” with Bautista was No. 1 this week with $114,774,810 in U.S. revenue. After two weeks, the movie is at $453,107,350 in the U.S. and worldwide it was at $1,187,710,610. It took 11 days of release to hit one billion, the fastest movie in history ever to get to that figure. Right now it is 15th place all-time both in the U.S. and worldwide and expected to end up No. 1 or No. 2 worldwide when all is said and done. “Rampage” with Dwayne Johnson was No. 5 in week four with $4,637,400 and is at $84,801,710 in the U.S. and $378,8 million worldwide. “Blockers” with Cena was No. 10 for the weekend with $1,751,340 and is at $56,222,840 after five weeks.

A new YouTube animated series that will feature the voice of Cena will be debuting on 5/30. The show is called “Dallas and Robo,” with Cena and Kat Dennings as the stars. SHADOWMACHINE, the group behind “Robot Chicken” on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and “Final Space” on TBS, is producing the series. This had been announced last summer but the debut date was announced this week. Dallas, voiced by Dennings, is a space trucker and Robo, voiced by Cena, is a warrior and poet who navigate around various villains in the galaxy trying to make a living at intergalactic big rigging.

We still haven’t been able to confirm anything regarding the proposed show at 100,000 seat MCG Stadium in Melbourne, Australia on 10/6. It was mentioned on television and reported about in the Australian media. WWE was supposed to make the official announcement in early April and that came and. Obviously there are snags but nobody has confirmed what they are. WWE has not responded to any questions regarding the show. What we do know is that something that was part of the deal hit a snag, but don’t know if it was something repairable or not.

Rousey wasn’t at the PPV or television this week because she was filming in Fiji for the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. The week starts 7/22. Rousey is expected at the London tapings this week. She’s advertised for the Raw house shows after London on 5/14, but not on the shows prior.

O’Neil’s slip was featured on SportsCenter. He told Mike Mooneyham that he hopes they don’t go too far with pushing it on television. It’s a great moment for him in the sense it’ll be shown on packages for the next 30 or more years, like the Shock Master thing. Some see that as good, but Fred Ottman never did another thing and his deal wasn’t nearly so obvious as this one was. “I hope not,” he said about it being pushed in storyline. “I think the beauty in the whole thing is that they get it now. It happened. It was funny, and there are still ways we can create to be entertaining, but not necessarily dwell on it. It’s just like in life. Once I get over a situation, I’m over it. I’ll refer to it every once in a while, but I’m not going to harp on it.” WWE is usually about either ignoring something or beating you to death with it and this week they used it as part of a television commercial so it’s the latter. Reality is O’Neil will be asked about this forever and will make his name more, at least slightly more, for post-wrestling so it’s a good thing for him. The reality is they were not going to do anything with him without it, and probably won’t with it either. But if they go too hard with it, it will come across like this forced joke that is funny to Vince and forced fed the announcers after the crowd has gotten over it.

WWE has applied to trademark the term “Great American Bash".

Nikki Bella, since moving out of Cena’s home in Florida, has said she is now living in Phoenix with Bryan & Brie. But US Weekly said while she’s living in the Danielson house, she spends her nights at John’s apartment. So are we to believe Cena now has an apartment in Phoenix? Because that sneaking out in Phoenix to spent nights in Tampa suburbs is a hell of a daily commute, especially considering Cena is almost never home to begin with. Anyway, for those keeping track, People Magazine’s sources, which thus far have had him breaking up with her, then her breaking up with him, say that they are almost surely getting back together again (US reported they probably would get back together again) and it was just the pressure of a lavish made-for-TV wedding that freaked him out. Luckily the cameras for Total Bellas were right there to get the scripted version of what really happened this upcoming season.

Tino Sabbatelli underwent surgery his past week for a pectoral tear which took place in his 4/28 match with Velveteen Dream in Largo, FL. I’m not sure exactly where it happened, but did see the match and Dream dropkicked him and all of a sudden Sabbatelli grabbed his chest and shoulder area, and they went right to the finish. That’s usually a six to nine month recovery and Sabbatelli is already 34, and while his ability and look to exude cockiness gets him more heat from fans than just about anyone on the NXT roster aside from Tommaso Ciampa, for a guy who is probably legitimately as good an athlete as almost anyone on the roster and clearly wants it, his wrestling is still behind where it should be. And he was just getting going as far as a television push. NXT often cuts people when they are injured but I’m guessing given his look, that won’t happen here.

The CBS TV show “Undercover” has filmed a WWE episode which looks to have been filmed at the Performance Center on how the company creates new stars. Somehow I think scouting PWG won’t be portrayed as the key to finding new stars.

WWE sent out a press release to announce Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke being signed. The release talked about them reporting to the Performance Center but both have been training on-and-off there for nearly a year and Duke was either signed or all but signed months ago. The original idea was to do a Ronda Rousey & Shayna Baszler & Shafir & Duke Four Horsewomen angle against Charlotte & Lynch & Bayley & Banks. Angles were shot, but then the idea was dropped with the idea of Rousey debuting in WrestleMania and working with Stephanie and they weren’t around much. Duke fought in UFC and Invicta but had a 3-5 MMA record with 1 no contest and had lost her last five fights. I believe she moved to Florida when Baszler made the move. Shafir had moved earlier since she got engaged to Roderick Strong and the couple has a baby. They were pushing Shafir pretty hard during the Strong vs. Bobby Roode angle, but wherever they were going with it was dropped. The press release WWE sent out talked about the Horsewomen vs. Horsewomen angles that were never followed up on

WWE has added 52 episodes of Sunday Night Heat, which aired from August 1998 to July 1999, to the WWE Network.

Keith Lee is finishing up his indie bookings at the end of this month so he should be starting here very shortly after that.

Regarding Neville, he has moved back to the U.K., which pretty much says at this point he’s not looking at returning. He is under contract and I don’t know whether he’s being paid or not (I’d presume not) but because he’s not performing the contract is frozen, an the WWE deal is worldwide meaning he can’t wrestle for anyone. Basically he has a similar but different issue that Bryan had a few years ago where his contract was frozen (although in his case he was getting paid) until he returned, but they wouldn’t let him return. When they brought him back as General Manager, the contract was unfrozen and only then did he have an end date for it.

Ray Rowe, 33, of War Machine, and Sarah Logan (real name Sarah Brides), 24, have set a 12/21 wedding date. The two have been engaged for some time and were together as a couple before either was in WWE.

A funny story on the Undertaker vs. Rusev casket match at the Greatest Royal Rumble show. If you recall, it was originally Undertaker vs. Rusev and then changed to Undertaker vs. Jericho and then changed back to Rusev. Jericho, as a courtesy, told McMahon that he was going to Fukuoka to shoot another angle with New Japan for his match with Naito at Dominion. Just a couple of hours later he was told that the Prince of Saudi Arabia asked for Rusev in he mach instead of him so they were taking him out. Given that the Prince clearly was wanting talent from years back (Hogan, Undertaker, Yokozuna, Ultimate Warrior) on the card and requested them, it is hard to believe he would have specifically on that day asked for Rusev for that match and not Jericho, particularly since the match had been changed to not be Rusev just a few days earlier. That probably also explains how the story got out that Jericho was going to Japan since in telling Vince the secret, it was no longer a secret.

Jericho had Bryan on his podcast and noted that Vince had called him a few weeks before Mania and brought up that he knew he had a concert that day but could he be ready for Mania as a backup if Shane (who needed surgery for a hernia, a staph infection in his hand and was hospitalized with Diverticulitis) couldn’t do the match. Bryan said Shane had called him had told him he had Diverticulitis and got a staph infection in his hand from the IV as well as the hernia but told Bryan he would be on the show. Bryan said he went to TV the next day and asked, figuring no way Shane could wrestle two weeks later. He was told they had a pretty good backup, but wouldn’t tell him what that was. Bryan said he assumed it was Jericho because it was the person who made the most sense. Jericho said they had looked into it and he would have gotten rushed out of New Hampshire to WrestleMania and arrived just in time for the match, and said he would have no problem doing a WrestleMania match like that on the fly, and he knew Bryan wouldn’t either, but thought Zayn would have a heart attack walking into the ring at Mania with almost nothing laid out. Jericho said that Vince called him the next week and said that Shane was going to be doing the match.

Bryan also talked about how much he hated being General Manager because he had to be around wrestling every week but wasn’t allowed to wrestle. He said had he not been cleared, he was 100 percent going to ROH, CMLL and New Japan starting in September. He said he was looking at working a program where he would feud with Bullet Club.

There was a deal made for licensing footage from Impact, which included the Hardys TNA footage on a special. On a Table for 3 with Styles, Shane McMahon and Angle that aired on 5/7 for the first time, they aired footage of a Styles vs. Angle match from Impact in 2008. At the end of the show, they flashed a message that read: “To Watch All A.J. Styles vs. Kurt Angle Impact Wrestling matches in their entirety, download the Global Wrestling Network app, available on all your favorite streaming devices.” It was only a few weeks ago that Jeff Jarrett wasn’t allowed to mention TNA in his Hall of Fame speech, but recently there was a TNA joke during Raw and then they plugged their streaming service and had Styles and Angle acknowledge they had matches there during a WWE show.

Lawler had a CAT scan after his recent stroke, and noted on his podcast that he has brain damage in a number of cells in his brain. He said he’s felling no ill effects whatsoever and the doctor told him he was phone even with the damaged cells, but was very lucky as it could have been far worse.

Owens noted in an interview with Patric Laprade that he had signed a new five-year contract (which would last until he’s almost 39) and that he expects to retire in WWE.

The company has filed a lawsuit against Transworld Television, which they claim owes the company $337,143 for money owed regarding television deals in Africa and the Middle East.

Pete Dunne announced that he was expecting his first child in November.

Heath Slater has been running a wrestling school in Morrow, GA, called the Face 2 Face Wrestling school, using his real name of Heath Miller, and also has Ron Simmons, Carlene Begnaud (Jazz) and Teddy Long on the staff. He recently posted about training 7-foot 315 pound Zeus Frazier, a former pro boxer and the son of the legendary Joe Frazier. Zeus Frazier is actually Ernest Mazyck, 39, who boxed from 2005 to 2015 as a heavyweight and had an 8-2 record. At one point trained by Joe Frazier and he later went by the name Zeus Frazier, so he may have been adopted or just had an agreement too use the name. He was listed as 6-foot-9 but like with pro wrestlers, he’s been billed as 7-foot-2 at times and as the worlds’ biggest boxer.

WWE announced both Raw and Smackdown being taped on 8/27 and 8/28 in Toronto, with the local advertising for Raw based on the Toronto debut of Rousey and for Smackdown, pushing it’s Bryan’s first match in Toronto in three years. Advertised main events, which likely won’t happen, are Reigns & Lashley & Strowman vs. Mahal & Owens & Zayn for Raw and Styles vs. Nakamura for Smackdown.

The top ten most-watched shows on the WWE Network for the past week were: 1. Backlash; 2. Table for 3 with Styles, Angle and Shane McMahon; 3. Greatest Royal Rumble; 4. Camp WWE episode one; 5. Greatest Royal Rumble pregame show; 6. NXT from 5/2; 7. Ride Along with O’Neil, Crews, Bliss and Strowman; 8. Backlash post-game show; 9. Something Else to Wrestle With with Bruce Prichard & Conrad Thompson on Shawn Michaels on 5/2; 10. 205 Live on 5/1.

Notes from the 5/7 Raw show at the Nassau Coliseum. It was just a show, built around Money in the Bank qualifiers. Considering the show the night before, the crowd didn’t hold much of a grudge or anything. They weren’t hot, but it was better than the reputation of Nassau Coliseum of being a dead arena for reactions. Still, there was a lot of stuff that had clear disinterest with fans not paying attention to the stuff and chanting for Punk, sports teams, we had a Mahal vs. Gable match and beatdown where fans paid attention more to a beach ball and a marriage proposal in the crowd. Crowd was 9,000. Alexander pinned Nese with the lumbar check. Ryder, who got a big reaction being he’s from Long Island, pinned Hawkins with the Rough Ryder. There was also an Authors of Pain squash win that aired before the live crowd while on television they played the Lashley segment. Raw opened with Angle coming out. He said he’s been part of the WWE family for almost 20 years. Well, eight is close to 20. He said there would be two Money in the Bank matches, one for men and one for women. He mentioned the names of Moon (little reaction), Riott (little reaction) and Banks (big reaction) for one match and then Reigns (heavy boos), Balor (heavy cheers) and Zayn (weak reaction). Strowman came out and said he should be in the match. He then told this story about how once when he was a kid, his friends all built a three house and didn’t involve him. Then when they were all in their tree house, he knocked the three down. Angle admitted he deserves a shot. Owens came out and said he was in the highest rated segment on Raw and he’s the Raw MVP. Owens said that last night, the illegal man, him, was pinned, and thus, the decision should have been reversed, and given that, his team really won over Strowman’s team so he deserves to be the MITB match and not Strowman. He said that Strowman needs to be sent to his corner and put in time out because he’s a bad monster. The person who wrote that script should be sent to the gallows, or at least to a tree house. Owens said that Stephanie was watching and that Angle needs this job. Yeah, let’s then forget Angle’s match at Mania with that logic. Angle announced Owens vs. Strowman next as an MITB qualifier. Strowman won in 13:41. They were really pushing how Strowman is on a roll, winning the tag titles, the greatest Royal Rumble and the tag match at Backlash. The first half of the match was a little rough but it turned into a good match. You could really see how good Owens was here in carrying the second half of the match. Strowman missed a charge into the post, which feels like that happens in every match. He missed another charge and hit his head on the post. Owens got a near fall with a great frog splash. The finish saw Strowman run him over three times on the floor and pinned him after a powerslam. Reigns did a backstage interview and said he was tired of getting screwed over by management. He started talking about his haters and then told them to ask Lesnar, Heyman or Joe about him. He said he wouldn’t want to be Balor or Zayn tonight because he’s pissed off. He said he can’t control what happens outside the ring but he can control what happens inside and he’s going to win tonight, win the ladder match and cash it in for the title. Bayley wanted in the women’s MITB match. Breeze & Fandango did a promo and said nothing. Angle was with Goldust who wants in the MITB match. Goldust said that in his whole career he’s only met one man he didn’t want to fight. He never did tell us more as Mahal showed up and wanted to know why Reigns is in the match because he gets opportunity after opportunity and he’s gotten none. Angle said that Mahal hasn’t even won a match since he got on Raw. But he said if he put on a good showing against Gable he’ll consider it. Corbin & The Revival beat Jose & O’Neil & Crews in 4:57. Jose hit the windup punch on Dawson, but Corbin then gave Jose the end of days for the pin. Why they are beating Jose, who just arrived, as opposed to O’Neil, is beyond me. But at least they told everyone what they probably already figured about where Jose is slotted. Breeze & Fandango did a commercial for Carmax. They showed a graphic saying that Backlash was the most social show on television Sunday night. Given the reaction, I’m not sure that’s something to brag about. Moon beat Banks and Riott in a MITB qualifying match in 10:31. Banks looked very good in this match. She did a flip dive on Logan and Morgan. Riott did a dropkick off the apron on Banks. The crowd got into it. Moon hit a tope on Riott. Logan pulled Moon down. Fans chanted “You deserve it,” which may have been in reference to something in the crowd since at one point you could see the ringsiders not paying attention to the match. Riott was beaten at one point but Morgan and Logan ran in and since WWE three-ways have no DQ, it didn’t matter. Bayley ran down. Why she would be there to save Banks makes no sense but they could have said that Bayley was mad at them for costing her the mach the night before. Morgan & Logan were beating down Bayley and then beat down Banks. Riott was on the verge of beating Banks, when Moon came off the top rope with the eclipse on Riott and pinned her. Charly Caruso was with Moon who was given a hideous promo to recite, trying to use the term Moon and references to it as much as possible. Renee Young did a segment with Lashley. The idea is that Lashley has done nothing for his personality. So the idea of doing a segment like this makes sense. Lashley has a lot of interesting life stories, but they focused on his sisters bullying him, but all in the name of fun and talked about how much he loved his Dad and his sisters. This came across like something out of the mid-50s with those standards for a babyface. They were trying to make him a happy smiling babyface. There were a couple of issues. When talking about college wrestling, they noted he was NAIA national champion in 1995, 1996 and 1997. The problem is Lashley looks like a guy in his prime, and they basically told everyone who can do the most basic math in their head that Lashley was in his 40s. They talked about Lashley getting to tryout for the Olympics (this would have been the 2004 Olympics) but hurt his knee. But that’s an interesting story. He was in a bank and bank robbers came in and starting shooting so he dove on the ground and hurt his knee. So like the only interesting story that they could have talked about without bringing up TNA and racism, they whiffed on. They noted he was in the main event at WrestleMania early in his career (with no mention of Vince McMahon, Donald Trump, of course with Trump, and Umaga). The idea was that he wrestled, but wanted real sports competition, so he went into MMA and was 15-2. Granted, saying why he quit the promotion because of perceived racial issues and issues with the treatment of his then-girlfriend is as likely to be talked about on WWE programming as saying Bruno wanted nothing to do with the company because he believed the drug use was out of control. The idea they gave was that since he left, he hadn’t done any pro wrestling, just fighting. This segment wasn’t good at getting him over. I can see why they had the idea they should do it, but I’ve had many discussions with Lashley that would have made for a good segment, and none were as bland or would have worked as badly in that position as that one. Zayn and Owens were backstage. Zayn said it felt like everywhere they go there is a conspiracy to rain on their parade. Owens asked Zayn about slapping him. Zayn said that was yesterday and we need to focus on today. Zayn said that one of us needs to get into the MITB match, and with Owens losing, he has to get into it. He wanted to know if Owens had his back. Owens reluctantly said he did. Mahal pinned Gable in 4:10 with the Khallas after Gable went after Singh. Gable may be the most wasted talent on the roster. Singh yelled at Gable after and Gable shoved him. Mahal continued to beat on Gable. Nobody made the save. The fans live were paying no attention to this. There was a beach ball in the crowd. Somebody was proposing. Mahal was trying to get heat and the crowd wasn’t watching or reacting. Bliss did a promo, followed by The Ascension. Bliss said Jax was a bully. Ryder showed up and said it was his hometown and he wanted a qualifying match tonight in Long Island. He never got an answer, but he also never got a match. Mahal came out and wanted to be added to the Balor vs. Reigns vs. Zayn main event. Angle said no. We never did hear from Ryder again. McIntyre & Ziggler beat Slater & Rhyno in 2:35. Some of the Slater vs. Ziggler stuff was messy. They did a spot where Slater outboxed McIntyre and the announcers whiffed on mentioning Slater’s boxing background, although to be fair, for an ex-boxer, his punches looked bad. McIntyre did a sick head-butt on Rhyno. They won with the combination Zig Zag and Claymore kick. Elias came out. Fans were with him early, then started with chants like “Rusev Day.” Roode pinned Elias in 10:23. So the crowd totally crapped on this match, chanting for everything like the Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Islanders, Punk, etc. When they weren’t chanting for stuff they were dead. The match fell apart at one point and the announcers started talking about it cryptically talking about how fundamentals aren’t Elias’s strong suit. Roode won with the DDT out of nowhere. Roode is dying on Raw, but in the turns category, it was his turn to win. Rollins came out for an interview. He talked about how Miz took him to the limit. He said he could learn from Miz about what kind of champion not to be. He paused waiting for a pop from the crowd. No pop came. He said that he would be a fighting champion and issued an open challenge. Rawley came out. Fans chanted “We Want Ryder” at this point. Rawley at least reacted telling Rollins that he’ll knock him down like he did Ryder. Rollins pinned Rawley in 10:56 with the curb stomp. This was a good match. Rollins did two topes. Rawley did a fireman’s carry slam for a near fall. Rawley hit the pounce, but then he tried for a second one and was hit with a superkick. Balor did an interview. Matt Hardy & Wyatt beat Dallas & Axel in 2:37 with a double-team Sister Abigail and Hardy pinning Axel. Dallas never entered against his brother. Obviously that wasn’t mentioned. Natalya and Corbin both did promos about MITB, so they should be in qualifying matches next week. Balor beat Reigns and Zayn in a MITB qualifying match in 15:24. This was a good match. Unlike the night before when everyone crapped live over Reigns, on this show they booed the hell out of him to the point he came across like the biggest star in the company. There was a huge reaction when both guys were putting the boots to him. Reigns got taken out for several minutes. He then came back and went wild. Reigns has setting up the spear when Mahal tripped him and took him out. Zayn hit him with the helluva kick. Balor hit the Woo dropkick on Zayn and pinned Zayn after the coup de grace. So, it’s come to seeing if they put Reigns vs. Mahal that maybe fans will cheer Reigns on television matches.

Notes from the 5/8 tapings in Baltimore. Better than usual taping before 6,000 fans. Asuka beat Deville in the dark match. Pretty good. They did a double head kick double knockdown spot that got over. Asuka won with the Asuka lock. Smackdown opened with Paige talking about what was on the show. Paige in this role isn’t clicking. She tries but comes across like somebody copying how previous WWE General Managers would talk. Miz beat Jeff Hardy in a MITB qualifier in 20:13. This was the example of a match with tons of near falls that the crowd got into big just because they kept kicking out of near falls. They kept building to Jeff hitting the swanton. He did the twist of fate early but Miz rolled out of the ring. When he did it at the end, he followed with the swanton, but Miz reversed the pin into a crucifix pin, so he won clean. Sheamus & Cesaro were backstage. Sheamus was eating “Lucky Charms” with the idea that’s what he does when he gets depressed and he was depressed about losing to Woods last week. Sheamus wanted Cesaro to face Woods to see if he could do better. Both opened up their bags to find out that their clothes were gone and their bags were filled with pancakes and they both talked about how they hated pancakes. This reminded me of that terrible angle Booker T was in over a shampoo commercial. There was a video for Sanity coming soon. Nakamura was with Renee Young. He told her he doesn’t know English. She said that everyone knows that he knows English. He said that yes, he could speak English, but now I’ve forgotten it and winked at her. Really, even though he’s supposed to be a heel, that winking was such a babyface move to make him cool even though I’m sure they felt Americans would get mad because the foreigner wouldn’t speak the “proper language.” Nakamura said he wasn’t finished with Styles. Carmella was gloating about being Charlotte. She said that next week in London would be the Royal Mellabration. She’s trying to get over her Mella is Money catch phrase. She’s very good until the bell rings. Dillinger and Naomi did MITB promos. Billie Kay did a promo. This was terrible, like a female version of the Lashley promo on Monday. I like her delivery and she and Royce have a good act, but the material they were given was God awful. Charlotte beat Royce in 12:52 in a MITB qualifier. Royce looked bad early, just stuff didn’t look good at all. But they went long enough, had enough ring presence and kicked out of enough moves that the crowd took it as a good match by the end. It felt too long but it was well laid out and Charlotte did enough stuff that got over that it worked. Royce kicked out of a high kick and won with the figure eight. Bryan did an interview and said that he made Cass tap out. He also mentioned that he won Money in the Bank before and cashed it in “right here in Baltimore,” using a Mick Foley cadence too say it. He tried to get over a catch phrase, “The bigger they are, the faster they tap.” Benjamin did a promo saying MITB is the match that he made famous. He actually did have some great performances in some of the early matches. He said that some of the highlights of his career were in ladder matches. Asuka did a promo about it as well. Cesaro beat Woods in 7:04. Big E, Kingston and Sheamus were all at ringside. Big E was throwing pancakes at Sheamus. Kingston came off the apron with a clothesline on Sheamus. In the ring, Woods went for his ropewalk elbow, but as he came off the ropes, Cesaro got up and hit him with the uppercut for the pin. Styles did an interview about Nakamura. His left cheek is still all red from the cut. The Bludgeon Brothers did an interview not saying much. Rose beat Lynch in 2:22 with a schoolboy. Rose & Deville told Paige that she couldn’t kill Absolution because they are sticking together. Paige then banned Deville from ringside. Still, Rose won clean quickly. Looks like they want to make Rose a star. They are giving her a unique entrance where they shoot it so she comes to the ring and everything is blurry except her. She does have star presence and given her level of experience, is ahead of the curve in the ring as well. Rusev pinned Bryan in a MITB qualifier in 11:17. I don’t think anyone expected that finish. This was very good. Bryan is one of those guys where every single thing he does looks good and has a purpose. There’s no wasted movements or spots, knows exactly when to raise his arms and get the Pavlovian chants. The crowd was really into this as well, and they weren’t doing “Rusev Day” or any comedy chants or reactions. Bryan did a sliding kick through the ropes on Rusev & English and then a running knee off the apron on Rusev. Bryan ran into a knee by Rusev and Rusev pinned him clean with a high kick. The story was that Bryan lost because he had taken such a beating from Cass that he wasn’t at 100 percent. They are booking him fine for a middle guy, but he should have been far more than that, especially now because of his story and comeback. I can get not wanting him in the Money in the Bank match. It’s possible, if he’s in, that it could get fans reacting in a way they don’t want. Plus, he doesn’t need to be in that kind of a match. 205 Live opened with Metalik & Dorado over Gallagher & Kendrick in 7:48. Gulak came out for commentary and he’s back doing his anti-flying gimmick. As he came to the ring he shook hands with one fan only to arrogantly wipe his wind on his suit jacket. That was a subtle thing that was so cool for a heel to do. A lot of comedy with Dorado and Gallagher. Metalik did a running flip dive. Dorado pinned Gallagher after a shooting star press. This was typical 205 Live in that the match was good and the crowd wasn’t much into it. Gulak after the match, said “Let him try that on me.” The announcers pushed the result of the match that high flying beat grappling. Ali did an interview. Murphy & Nese were together backstage so it looks like they may be marketed as a group or a tag team. Maybe they can be called the no carb diet. Nese pinned Keith Clayball in 3:03 with a running knee. This was a squash. Alexander did an interview and said that he wants a match with Murphy to finish the fight. Drake Maverick was with him and told him the U.K. guys would be on the show next week from London and Alexander told him to tell them to bring their A game because he is bringing his. Alexander did this in a slightly more cocky manner than usual. Murphy pinned Ali in 15:44 of a **** match. These guys tore it up. If this was on an NXT Takeover and got the crowd reactions they would have doing this match there, people who only watch WWE would be calling it a match of the year. Here it was hampered by the crowd but not so much where you couldn’t see how great it was. It also had a lot of creativity, which WWE patterned matches rarely have. Murphy did a fireman’s carry into spinning drop. A small group of fans got into a new hot move. They teased the spot from last week where Murphy power bombed Ali three times and teased the ref stopping it but Ali told the ref not to. There was another unique sequence where both were on the top rope. Ali teased a top rope Frankensteiner but to the floor instead of the ring, which would have been nuts. Murphy shoved Ali backwards off the top rope t the floor and Ali flipped and landed on his feet. Murphy then came off the top rope with a plancha on him but Ali hit a superkick as he was flying in. Ali missed a 450, and Murphy worked over the left arm, throwing it into the post twice and doing several moves on it before winning with a pump handle into the Angle slam, called Murphy’s law. Styles beat Nakamura via DQ in the dark match for the WWE title. They worked harder than most dark matches, with a lot of near falls, but it was short. Nakamura hit Styles with a chair for the DQ. After the match, Nakamura went for the Kinshasa, and Styles went for the same counter as Mania, but they botched the spot a little. They recovered quickly and Styles laid out Nakamura with the Styles clash.

Notes from the 5/2 NXT TV show. The show opened once again with the Undisputed Era. They play their music while doing the promo and try to give them an NWO cool vibe. Usually that doesn’t work but it seemed to work here, largely because of Adam Cole having a certain cocky superstar presence. Bobby Fish had a funny line saying that he was going to tell all the folks at rehab (for his knee) that The Undisputed Era would be sending more people their way. Kairi Sane pinned Shazza McKenzie in 1:49 with the elbow off the top. That move looked great. McKenzie didn’t look good here as this wasn’t smooth, and Sane is one of the best workers, male or female, in the company. Lots of stuff was off. Lacey Evans came out after the match to tell Sane she was sorry, but the sucker punched her. The gimmick is Evans has knockout power with her punch. Evans has a presence about her that is unique. She’ll probably get an opportunity to make it because of that and her background of being a former service woman. Candice LeRae did an interview. This was more about Johnny Gargano being hurt in last week’s angle and her being broken up about it. She said this hasn’t been an easy year. She said she achieved her dream of being signed and this person who they thought of as family (Tommaso Ciampa) did that to Gargano. She cried on cue. She said how she had to watch her husband go out on a stretcher. The idea is she was mentally distraught, which came up later in her losing her match. TM 61 beat The Street Profits in 3:12. Not much to it. TM 61 is just flat. They did those great videos and had no follow-up. So now they’re going heel. It’s just as well. Shane Thorne rolled through on a sunset flip and put both of his feet on the ropes while Nick Miller held his feet in place so he could use the leverage to pin Montez Ford. It was meant as a heel turn. Kassius Ohno did an interview talking about Ciampa. He said that he’s known Gargano for ten years and also knows Ciampa, and that Ciampa is a coward, an opportunistic coward and he wants Ciampa in a match. Kona Reeves made his re-debut with a push, pinning Patrick Scott in 2:01 with a Samoan drop. Except they call it a Hawaiian drop. Reeves gimmick is that “I’m the finest.” They did a Dakota Kai interview. Basically all we know about her character is that she’s scared of Shayna Baszler. It was one of those mock NXT press things where you see fake reporters with their phones all asking questions, so they kept asking her about Baszler and she didn’t want to talk about it. Vanessa Borne showed up all made up. Borne called her a scaredy cat. Not sure I’ve heard that term since second grade. Borne said if she was in Kai’s position, she’d slap the hell out of Baszler. Kai said she wasn’t afraid of Borne, implying she’s still afraid of Baszler, so they were building a program between the two of them. Not sure that portraying a babyface as being afraid of the heel and scared to the point of being traumatized is good babyface booking. Bianca Belair beat LeRae in 3:31. The story was that LeRae wasn’t on her game because of Gargano being hurt. She was distracted. There was a hell of an impressive spot where Belair picked LeRae up from the ground like a dead lift, then cleaned her to the top of her head and pressed her overhead. Belair won with the Alley Oop, which is like picking someone up for a power bomb, but instead of slamming her forwards, she dropped her backwards. Devil Masami used to do that move. Main event saw Pete Dunne beat Roderick Strong via DQ in 9:08 in a non-title grudge match. Action was good, although I can’t say it was as good as you’d expect given the talent of the two. Part of it is they didn’t have enough time to do their usual type of match. Strong went for a chop but Dunne blocked it and did the Marty Scurll finger break spot. Dunne used a German suplex and kick to the back, and then hit the Bitter end. Cole & Kyle O’Reilly attacked Dunne for the DQ. They were all beating Dunne down until Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch made the save.

One again, due to the show in Saudi Arabia last week, they gave both groups the weekend off from touring until the PPV show. The only shows once again were NXT show sin Florida. The first show was 5/3 in Bartow, FL, before 150 fans. Raul Mendoza pinned Fabian Aichner. Bianca Belair pinned Steffanie Newell. The War Raiders beat Adrian Jaoude & Cezar Bononi. EC 3 beat Mahabali Shera in a battle of former TNA wrestlers. Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong kept the tag titles beating The Street Profits. TM 61 beat Christopher Dijak & Brennan Williams. Kona Reeves, who is starting to get a push, beat Jeet Rama. Nikki Cross pinned Reina Gonzalez. Main event saw Adam Cole retain the North American title beating Marcel Barthel.

5/4 in Crystal River, FL, drew 200 fans. It opened with War Raiders over Bononi & Jaoude once again. Fans were chanting “War” during this match. Basic match. The War Raiders got a big reaction. The Brazilian team is improving and Taynara Conti in particular is getting it at ringside. Her gimmick is that she’s a pretty spoiled girl and plays that role great at ringside. Reina Gonzalez pinned Kacy Catanzaro from American Ninja Warriors. Catanzaro is already very good at using the ropes for moves. Gonzalez won with a Stan Hansen style lariat. Percy Watson then came out and interviewed Rinku Singh and Saurav Gunjar. They are two wrestlers who were signed from the 2017 tryout in Dubai but haven’t had their first match yet. Singh is the tall former Rinku Singh, who never played baseball growing up in India, won a reality show there called “The Million Dollar Arm” for his ability to pitch with speed and accuracy in India which won him $100,000 and he was the first Indian-born player in U.S. baseball, pitching in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system. He never made the big leagues and his baseball career ended in 2016, but Disney did a movie, “The Million Dollar Arm,” based on his story. Gunjar is an actor from India who was also part of Jeff Jarrett’s Ring Ka King promotion. Gunjar is not good with English so Singh did most of the talking. The crowd was receptive to them. They said they would be future NXT tag team champions. Babatunde Aiyegbusi pinned Chad Lail with a back suplex. They pushed Aiyegbusi by saying he was a participant in the Greatest Royal Rumble. Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch beat Wesley Blake & Steve Cutler. The entire match was built around them trading haddocks. The crowd got into the irony of the match and reacted well to it. Ricochet pinned Mendoza. Mendoza showed a lot of new things because he had a much more versatile opponent than usual. Said to be the second best match on the show. Barthel beat Jason. Barthel carried Jason through the match. Shayna Baszler & Aliyah (who just cut a promo on Baszler on the TV show ) & Kavita.

Devi & Vanessa Borne beat Dakota Kai & Newell & Candice LeRae & Kairi Sane. Baszler spent the match bullying around the other heels. Finally, when she was being beaten on, they refused to help her. Sane did a big dive to the outside. Baszler beat Newell with the choke and then bossed around her teammates some more. Main event saw Aleister Black keep the NXT title beating Velveteen Dream. This was said to be very similar to their Takeover match and this was a great house show main event, said to be ****. The thing I’ve noticed with Dream as I’ve seen some of his house show and longer matches is he looks great with the right opponent, but when he’s in with someone who isn’t good, he doesn’t look good either. Last week, before the injury, he and Tino Sabbatelli had what I’d call a really bad quality main event. The only negative is this wasn’t as hot a crowd as they get in some of their markets.

The final NXT weekend show was 5/5 in Daytona Beach before 300 fans. This was said to be one of the best Florida NXT shows of the year, both for match quality and crowd reactions. It was also the first house show held in Florida in 14 months that featured every active champion. Lorcan & Burch beat TM 61 when a wheelbarrow into a spike DDT, which is their new finisher. Fun opener. This was the first event where TM 61 worked heel that they actually got booed when they came out, since it was the first time they had worked since them actually being heels on television. LeRae pinned Belair. There were dueling chants in his one. LeRae won with a perfect looking quebrada and was one of the better women’s matches so far this year on the Florida house shows. Blake & Cutler beat Christopher Dijak & Brennan Williams. Dijak & Williams, who are both about 6-foot-6, have been teaming up a lot. Blake & Cutler, even though they aren’t featured on television, get some of the best heat on the Florida shows. The finish was a double flatliner. There has been teases of Dijak & Williams being a regular team with the name the Towers of Power. Ciampa pinned Mendoza with Angel’s wings. The crowd reacted huge once the announcer said “from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Short match with tons of anti-Ciampa and pro-Gargano chants. Ciampa continued to beat down Mendoza after the match, and then put Mendoza in the Gargano escape. Gargano, wearing a neck brace, made the save. Gargano then said that when he becomes healthy, he will rid Ciampa from NXT forever. So they may be building to a loser leaves town match. That stipulation would be weird since the goal for the most part is to get out of NXT, because the main roster is where you get the real fame and money. Strong & O’Reilly beat The Street Profits in a non-title match. Strong pinned Ford with the end of heartache. This was said to be a ***½ match. Ricochet pinned Dream. The heat was incredible and is sustained the entire match. Ricochet countered a spinebuster into a roll-up in about 14:00. Expect these two to have some very good matches going forward. This was said to be ***3/4. Black beat Barthel in a non-title match. Barthel claims he’s from the perfect country of Germany and the U.S. is a cesspool, so that gets him heat. The match had almost no wrestling. Barthel continually got out of the ring to tell at the fans. Finally, out of nowhere, Black hit black mass for the win. Baszler beat Kai via choke to keep the women’s title. This title match came because Kai had won a No. 1 contenders three-way over Belair and Vanessa Borne at a house show in Orlando. Said to be ***. Cole pinned Fabian Aichner with a superkick and a shining wizard to keep the North American title. Even though Cole is a lead heel on television, he worked this match as a babyface. The match was solid but nobody believed Aichner ever had a chance to win.

The only house show of the week domestically was a Smackdown show on 5/7 in Allentown, PA, before 1,000 fans. The show opened with Harper & Rowan keeping the tag titles in a four-way over New Day (Big E & Kingston), Usos and English & Rusev. The finish saw Harper pin Rusev, which is a surprise that Rusev of all people would take the pin. Cass pinned Dillinger. Cass was over as a heel and Dillinger got a good reaction for a guy they don’t do anything with. Asuka & Lynch & Naomi beat Deville & Rose & Lana. Asuka beat Rose with the Asuka lock. Lana was the least over of the six. Miz TV was with Bryan. The place exploded when Bryan came out. They traded barbs and Bryan ended up punching Miz in the face and giving him the running knee. Jeff Hardy kept the U.S. title in a three-way over Joe and Benjamin when he pinned Benjamin after a swanton. Carmella, who had Royce and Kay in her corner, retained the women’s title over Charlotte. Main event saw Styles & Gallows & Anderson over Nakamura & Sheamus & Cesaro when Styles pinned Cesaro.

The Raw crew’s first night of the European tour was in Bornemouth, UK on 5/9. The most notable thing is that they moved the Reigns vs. Joe main event to the middle of the show and put a four-way for the IC title on last, trying to guard against any ideas of protest that stemmed from the PPV. As is usual for the overseas shows, they were all face wins but one, a match where it would make no sense to put the faces over in. Matt Hardy & Wyatt opened, keeping the tag titles over The Revival. Mark Andrews pinned James Drake. Jose & Breeze & Fandango & Ascension beat Authors of Pain & Corbin & Mahal & Hawkins. Jax retained in a three-way over Bliss and Bayley. Strowman & Lashley beat Owens & Zayn. Ziggler & McIntyre beat O’Neil & Crews. Banks & Moon & Natalya beat The Riott Squad. Main event saw Rollins win a four-way to keep the IC title over Roode, Elias and Balor.