The Pro-Wres Digest for February 18th – 25th
“The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff (Oreal Perras) sadly passed away at the age of 74 on 18/2 after a long battle with liver cancer. He started at Jack Wentworth’s wrestling school in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1959 at 17 years of age and after only a year of training he began working around the Toronto area as eye-patch wearing heel, “Irish” Red McNulty. Still wrestling professionally on a part time basis in the early 60s, Perras traveled to the Southern States several times and went by the name “Ivan Zukoff” in territories such as Georgia and Alabama. He faced his most famous opponent for the first time in March 1963 at a WWWF TV taping in Pittsburgh, PA, – an encounter which unwittingly foreshadowed what was to come eight years later. Greg Oliver’s book, The Heels, tells the story of the first Sammartino vs. Koloff match and explains how Koloff “almost got himself killed” after taking some intentionally poor advice from a veteran in the back. Koloff attacked Bruno before the match, while he was making the sign of the cross and enraged the fans in attendance. Koloff noted, “I ended up doing it, and I remember Bruno looking up at me like, ‘What’s the crazy kid doing?’ He threw me around and I think he put the bearhug on me.”
The Red McNulty gimmick was finally dropped in 1967 and “The Russian Bear” was born. Ivan Koloff became a top heel in places like Toronto and Quebec in the late 60s then returned to the WWWF in late 1969 for another go-around with the then reigning world champion, Bruno Sammartino. Koloff actually beat Sammartino in the main event at Madison Square Garden on December 9th, 1969 when the match was stopped due to blood after 21:34 – the title obviously did not change hands. They faced each other again on January 10th, 1970 and went to a DQ, before the rematch at MSG on 17/1/70, which saw Sammartino pin Koloff after 18:10 to retain the championship. The two fought to a no-contest on February 2nd,1970, in Philadelphia, PA, then went to a draw on March 10th in Washington, D.C. Sammartino came out on top of a Texas Death Match at the Boston Garden on April 25th to temporally put the feud to bed.
Madison Square Garden, New York City, January 18th 1971 – A date that has gone down in pro-wrestling folk-law as one of the most legendary moments in the history of the genre, when Ivan Koloff once again challenged Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF World Championship. This time however, nobody could have possibly expected what was about to unfold in front of the record 21,666 fans in attendance that night. Just over 14 and a half minutes into the match, Koloff picked up Sammartino for a Bodyslam, ascended to the top rope, and came crashing down on Bruno’s chest with a big diving Knee Drop. The referee made the count: One. Two. Three. An eerie hush fell over Madison Square Garden as the fans tried to comprehend what they had just witnessed. Their hero’s seven-year World championship reign was over just like that. The reaction of the crowd to Koloff beating Sammartino became the stuff of myth and legend, with the story being that “you could hear a pin drop” inside the arena after it happened. Koloff had so much heat in New York after the title switch that Vince McMahon Sr. did not book him on the January 30th show in Queens for fear of causing a riot. Koloff did work elsewhere in the territory during his short 21-day reign, including singles matches against Tony Marino, Manuel Soto, Gene DuBois, Gorilla Monsoon & Chief Jay Strongbow. There was even a Best 3 out of 5, six-man tag main event in Harrisburgh, PA on 29/1/71, with Koloff & The Mongols vs. Monsoon, Strongbow & Pedro Morales, which somehow went to a no-contest. Koloff did his duty as a transitional champion and dropped the title to Pedro Morales on February 8th,1971, at Madison Square Garden in front of another record 21,812 fans, everyone of whom paid to see the evil Russian get his comeuppance for dethroning Bruno.
Koloff went to the AWA soon after losing to Morales and spent a couple of years as a top heel, challenging Verne Gagne for the AWA World title on numerous occasions. Vince Sr. brought him back for some MSG shows against Bruno in 1975 & 76 and later did the same when Bob Backlund was the WWF Champion in 1979. He ended up in Georgia and won the Tag Team titles with Alex Smirnoff in late 1979 then went over to Florida and held the Tag belts there with Nikolai Volkoff in 1980. In 1981, he teamed with Ray Stevens to capture the NWA World Tag Team titles for Crockett and went on to beat Ricky Steamboat for the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight title during the same year. Vince McMahon Jr. used Koloff in 1983 for another run with WWF Champion Bob Backlund, before he went back to Crockett in 1984 and made the Mid-Atlantic area his home base during the famous run with his “nephew” Nikita Koloff & Krusher Kruschev as “The Russians.” Koloff stayed through the Turner buyout, until finally leaving WCW in 1989. He wrestled sporadically through the early 90s for places like All Japan, SMW, Herb Abram’s UWF and the early incarnation of ECW. After retiring in 1994, Koloff became a born again Christian and an ordained minister in his home of Greenville, NC. He came out of retirement for a nostalgia run in 2004 and worked a handful of matches over the next couple of years, including a Russian Chain Match with Dominic DeNucci on 27/8/2005. Koloff’s last documented match was on November 16th 2013 when he was 71 years-old, against Bob Armstrong (74) in Rome, Georgia. He was finally voted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame with 61% of votes in 2015 after years on the ballot.
The Rock was at the RAW show at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles to shoot scenes for the Fighting with My Family movie he is producing. He appeared before the show went on the air and told the people to stick around afterwards during the filming. Rock also made some jokes about John Cena and Vince McMahon came out on the stage to drag him to the back. Following RAW, Rock came down to the ring and cut a promo while the production people set everything up for the scenes. He noted they were recreating Paige’s debut title win over AJ Lee and everybody chanted for CM Punk. Rock said he was going to call Punk, but could only get through to his voicemail and left a message saying he was in the middle of the Staples Centre with 15,000 people who were chanting his name. Rock later claimed that Punk tried to call him back and he tried to get him on Facetime, but it didn’t go through. Vince must have been freaking out in the back, because he sent a referee out to give the Rock the “kill it” sign. Punk tweeted thank you to all the fans in the building and noted that he was out walking his dog, Larry, because it was his birthday.
Rock also directed the crowd for some reaction shots and at one point told them to, “boo like you’re booing Roman Reigns.” Actress Florence Pugh played the role of Paige and was in their with Thea Trinidad as AJ Lee for certain scenes. Tessa Blanchard was essentially the stunt-double and took all of the bumps for Pugh during the filming. Paige still not being cleared to wrestle is probably the likely reason why she didn’t pay herself during the wrestling scenes.
New Japan held a special shot to honour Togi Makabe’s 20th anniversary in the business. They showed a tribute package with Makabe making his debut against Shinjiro Ohtani in 1997, winning the G1 in 2009, and winning the IWGP title in 2010; Akira Maeda & Kazuyuki Fujita appeared in the package to talk about him too. Ricky Chosu was in attendance and handed over the ceremonial flowers to Makabe during the celebration. Main event saw Makabe & Tomoaki Honma beat the IWGP Tag champions Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano in a non-title match when Makabe pinned Yano with the King Kong Knee Drop at 15:37. Afterwards, Makabe said he was declining a spot in the New Japan Cup in order to concentrate on winning back the tag belts.
Zack Sabre Jr will be making his debut for New Japan on the company’s 45th anniversary show on March 6th at the Ota Ward Gymnasium in Tokyo. Sabre, who will be a regular for NJPW this year, is set to challenge Katsuyori Shibata for the Rev Pro Undisputed British Championship. Main event of the show sees Kota Ibushi, under the Tiger Mask W gimmick, facing IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada in a non-title match. Here’s the rest of the Anniversary show card:
New Japan Pro Wrestling – 45th Anniversary, March 6th 2017.
* Jushin Thunder Liger & Hirai Kawato vs. Tiger Mask IV & Tomoyuki Oka.
* Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, Jado & Gedo vs. Minoru Suzuki, Davey Boy Smith Jr., El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku.
* Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi & David Finlay vs. Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa.
* IWGP Junior Tag Championship Match: Rocky Romero & Barreta (C) vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi.
* British Heavyweight Championship Match: Katsuyori Shibata (C) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
* IWGP Tag Championship Match: Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii (C) vs. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma.
* Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, Juice Robinson & KUSHIDA vs. Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI.
* IWGP Junior Championship Match: Hiromu Takahashi (C) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi.
* NJPW 45th Anniversary Commemorative Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Tiger Mask W.
Tatsumi Fujinami’s DRADITION promotion are running Korakuen Hall on April 20th, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of “the Dragon’s” pro debut. The main event is a big legends six-man tag, with Fujinami, Riki Choshu & Shiro Koshinaka against the Big Van Vader, Keiji Mutoh & AKIRA. Fujinami said at a press conference in Tokyo that he wanted to organise the best card possible for the show and noted he wanted his 45th anniversary show to be better than the 40th. He also stated that he had talked with Vader, who assured him he was able to wrestle despite being diagnosed with heart disease. We talked about Vader’s issues in last week’s Digest.
JWP, the oldest women’s pro wrestling company in Japan, is due to close down after their 25th anniversary tour, which ends on April 2nd at Korakuen Hall. The announcement was made back on February 8th. Company president and perennial top-star Command Boilshoi said on the 11/2 show that she was sorry to have worried fans with the sudden announcement and declared she would continue to try and raise the profile of women’s pro wrestling. Boilshoi is starting up a new promotion, Pure Dream, with the first show at Korakuen on August 11th. The current incarnation of JWP was formed after a split within the Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling company in 1992. The two sides were identified as “shooters” and “entertainers”; the former was led by Rumi Kazama and became LLPW, while the latter was headed by Jackie Sato and became JWP.
Stardom ran Korakuen Hall on 23/2 and the main event saw Io Shirai retain the World of Stardom title over Shayna Baszler in 16:45 after hitting a Moonsault Press. It was Shirai’s 11th successful title defense, the most in the company’s history. Also on the show, Kairi Hojo retained the Wonder of stardom title over Jungle Kyona in 17:51. Kris Wolf became the new High Speed Champion after winning a three-way over the former champ Mayu Iwatani & Kahetsu in 10:01. Tony Storm retained the SWA title over Deonna Purrazzo in 8:09.
FMW drew 300 fans to Shinkiba 1st Ring on 24/2. The main event saw Atsushi Onita defeat The Great Sasuke in a Lumberjack Deathmatch in 15:53 after a Backdrop onto a chair. Raijin Yaguchi, Tomohiko Hashimoto and Black Tiger VII attacked Onita during the match, but Onita still prevailed as the winner. This was only the third ever singles match between Onita & Sasuke: Onita won the first – a No Rope Exploding Barbed Wire Double Hell Exploding Ring Deathmatch – in 1994, and Sasuke won the return – a No Ropes Barbed Wire Explosive Mine Board Deathmatch – in 2003. Onita thanked Sasuke afterwards for being a big part of his career and said he hopes to see the Great Nita appear on the 12/3 All Japan show.
Preston City Wrestling are running three straight nights for the Kris Travis Memorial Tournament this weekend. The problem is that the show is not designed to raise money for any type of cancer research charity; a fact that has angered a lot of fans and supposedly caused one of the biggest UK names to pull out of the shows. Back on 10/2, the PCW Facebook page replied to a question regarding the proceeds of the shows with the statement: “We raised about 15k for Kris Travis in the past. Think we earned the right to do our own thing now.” When asked if they had even consulted the Travis family about using his name to make money, PCW replied: “We are using his character from PCW, considering he was Mr. PCW…to his family, this was not his name but to his PCW family, it is… I am shocked people are trying to find fault in honoring one of the best wrestlers the UK ever produced and an amazing person.” Both comments appear to have been deleted. Still, the damage was done and people were not impressed with PCW’s distasteful carny tactics. Owner and promoer, Steve Fludder tried to justify himself by releasing a lengthy statement and claimed that this was no different than WWE running the Dusty Rhodes Classic, which is not true at all, then made sure to note of all the other things he had done to raise money for charity. Fludder didn’t manage to mend too many fences with his statement, as Pete Dunne Tweeted on 20/2 that he was pulling out of the shows because of the comments made by the promoter. It is worth noting that Dunne’s WWE deal wouldn’t have allowed him to appear on the shows because they are being produced for DVD, however WWE do allow exceptions for certain promotions and there is no proof that they pulled Dunne from the shows. Dunne had previously said he would donate his payoff from the shows to Cavendish Cancer Care and he said he would still honour his donation despite no longer working the PCW shows.
This weekend sees another Evolve double-shot of shows. Evolve 78 took place on 24/2 from the MCW Arena in Joppa, MD, and Timothy Thatcher’s 19 month-long Evolve title reign continued after he submitted Fred Yehi to retain the belt in the main event of the first show. Evolve 79 is on 25/2 from La Boom in Woodside, NY, and Thatcher will defend his title against Zack Sabre Jr in the main event in what should be a fascinating encounter. Semi-main is Drew Galloway vs. Matt Riddle. As always, the show will be streamed live on FloSlam.
All Pro Wrestling ran a show with Cody Rhodes vs. Pentagon in the main event on 17/2, in Daly City, CA. Rhodes won the match in front of a sell out of 800 fans after a ref bump and Joey Ryan ran in to help him beat down Pentagon. The post-match angle saw Ryan turn on Rhodes and gave him a beating, during which he actually bladed Rhodes. Cody then did a promo and challenged Ryan to a cage match when APW runs the famous Cow Palace on May 6th. It will be the first time a wrestling show has been held in the building since WWE ran a house show there in 2012 and is also the first event ran at the venue by a California based company since 1981. Dave Meltzer, who attended the 17/1 show, wrote in the Observer that APW booked Pentagon through AAA before he quite the company and as a result all of his pay-off went to AAA. Pentagon reportedly asked the APW promoter if he could essentially work for free and just make money of his merchandise sales, because he wants to build a good working relationship with the company.
Irish promotion OTT are already off FloSlam. There was a note in the Observer this week that OTT are one of the companies in talks with WWE regarding independent content for the Network.
CMLL announced the card for their first big show of the year for the Homenaje a Dos Leyendas 2017, at Arena Mexico on March 3rd. In addition to the annual honouring of Salvador Lutteroth, the career of Villano III will also be celebrated on the show. Main event is the well past his prime Pierroth vs. the average at best Diamante Azul in a mask vs. mask match. Pierroth already lost his mask once before, to La Parka in 2002, and was revealed to be Arturo Munoz, the father of current CMLL wrestlers, Mistico, Rush & Dragon Lee. Cubsfan thinks that Pierroth will “almost certainly” loose his mask for the second time. Also on the show, Ultimo Guerrero will defend the NWA World Middleweight title against Matt Taven, which is a bizarrely intriguing match, and there’s a really strong looking semi-main for the trios titles. Here’s the full line up for what looks like a fun show, other than the main event:
CMLL – Homenaje a Dos Leyendas, March 3rd 2017:
* Estrellita, Marcela & Princesa Sugehit vs. Amapola & Tiffany, Zeuxis.
* Dragón Lee, Stuka Jr. & Titán vs. Euforia, Gran Guerrero & Niebla Roja.
* Atlantis, Carístico & Marco Corleone vs. Kráneo, La Máscara & Rush.
* NWA World Middleweight Championship: Último Guerrero (C) vs. Matt Taven.
* CMLL World Trios Championship: Mistico, Valiente, Volador Jr. (C) vs. Ephesto, Luciferno, Mephisto.
* Pierroth vs. Diamante Azul.
AAA have announced the card for the 2017 Rey de Reyes show at Arena Jose Sulaiman in Monterrey on March 19th. The most interesting match on the show is probably the Aerostar vs. Super Fly in a mask vs. hair match, although it is highly unlikely that Aerostar is going to loose his mask. Main event is Hijo del Fantasma vs. Brain Cage vs. Johnny Mundo in the Rey de Reyes final. The card, which really exposes AAA’s current lack of depth, is as follows:
AAA – Rey de Reyes 2017, March 19th 2017:
* ??? vs ???
* Reina De Reinas, #1 Contenders Match: Faby Apache vs Mary Apache, La Hiedra, Lady Shani, ?, Goya Kong, Big Mami.
* Reina De Reinas: Taya (C) vs Winner of the #1 Contenders Match.
* AAA Tag Team Championship #1 Contenders Match: Dark Cuervo & Dark Scoria vs El Mesías & Pagano.
* Mask vs. Hair: Aerostar vs Súper Fly.
* Falls Count Anywhere: Dr. Wagner Jr. & Psycho Clown vs Monsther Clown & Murder Clown.
* Rey de Reyes: Hijo del Fantasma vs Texano Jr. vs. Johnny Mundo.
Baracal Entertainment, a live event production company, are running their first ever lucha show on March 11th at Alberca Olimpica in Mexico City. The show is advertised as a “homenja y fesyejo” for the “legend,” Pierroth. Main event is a rematch of one of the most talked about matches of 2016, as Pierroth’s son Rush takes on L.A. Park. Semi final has Pierroth & his son Dragon Lee vs. Silver King & Mr. Electro.
Bruiser Bob Sweetan passed away on 10/2, although the news of his death only emerged this week as reported by Greg Oliver of Slam! Wrestling; he was 76 years-old. Sweetan was a babyface star for Southwest Championship Wrestling during the company’s run on the USA Network in 1982-83 and worked many of the other territories, such as Leroy McGuirk’s Tri-State, Stampede and Central States. He was arrested 1990 for sexually abusing his daughter and pleaded guilty to the charges. After he stopped checking in with the police in 2000, Sweetan was deported to Canada, where he lived until the time of his death.
RAW on 20/2 did a 2.21 rating, with 3,208,000 viewers; that’s up from the 2.15 and 3,073,000 last week. 8pm did 3,259,000. 9pm did 3,261,000 and 10pm did 3,127,000.
SmackDown on 21/2 did a 1.96 rating, with 2,762,000 viewers; up slightly from last week’s 2,626,000.
TNA Impact on 23/2 did 275,000 viewers, down from last week’s 325,000; their rating held steady at 0.07.
Thanks for reading, we’ll see you all next week!