The Pro-Wres Digest for July 16th – 22nd
Well, they actually went ahead and did it. WWE took us all back a decade with the first live SmackDown on the USA Network on 19/7 when they split the roster during the new, but very much same old, brand extension. The format of the Draft felt as stale and inconsequential as the rest of the WWE product has for years and instead of treating this like an important deal, Stephanie & Shane were out there treating the whole thing like one big joke – especially Stephanie, who appears to have reached the DGAF stage of her performing career. How anyone can be positive about the future of the WWE product going forward is way beyond me, with the same mistakes that caused the original brand split to fail being blindly repeated by Vince and his brand of “Yes” men cronies. Anyway, I’ve made my feelings on the idiocy that is the 2016 Draft perfectly clear (see this week’s RAW Ramblings), so let’s just have a look at the two rosters that have been tasked with the job of turning around the plummeting ratings and dwindling house show numbers.
RAW: (1) Seth Rollins. (2) WWE Women’s Champion, Charlotte. (3) Finn Balor. (4) Roman Reigns. (5) Brock Lesnar. (6) WWE Tag Team Champions, The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, & Xavier Woods). (7) Sami Zayn. (8) Sasha Banks. (9) Chris Jericho. (10) US Champion, Rusev (w/ Lana). (11) Kevin Owens. (12) Enzo & Big Cass. (13) Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows. (14) Big Show. (15) Nia Jax. (16) Neville. (17) Cesaro. (18) Sheamus. (19) The Golden Truth. (20) Titus O’Neil. (21) Paige. (22) Darren Young w/Bob Backlund. (23) Sin Cara. (24) Jack Swagger. (25) The Dudley Boyz. (26) Summer Rae. (27) Mark Henry. (28) Braun Strowman. (29) Bo Dallas. (30) The Shining Stars. (31) Alicia Fox. (32) Dana Brooke. (33) Curtis Axel.
SmackDown: (1) WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Dean Ambrose. (2) AJ Styles. (3) John Cena. (4) Randy Orton. (5) Bray Wyatt. (6) Becky Lynch. (7) I-C Champion, The Miz (w/ Maryse). (8) Baron Corbin. (9) American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan). (10) Dolph Ziggler. (11) Natalya. (12) Alberto Del Rio. (13) The Usos. (14) Demon Kane. (15) Kalisto. (16) Naomi. (17) The Ascension. (18) Zack Ryder. (19) Apollo Crews. (20) Alexa Bliss. (21) Breezango. (22) Eva Marie. (23) The Vaudevillains. (24) Erick Rowan. (25) Mojo Rawley. (26) Carmella.
The much anticipated “NXT six” turned out to be quite the let down with Finn Balor, American Alpha, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Nia Jax & Mojo Rawley being called up. Aside from Finn Balor, all of the call-ups were brought in from outside sports and were exclusively trained in the WWE system, so they are all essentially homegrown talent. Balor & Alpha are clearly the only ones ready for the main roster and poor old Bayley remains stuck in developmental while the likes of Carmella, Eva Marie & Nia Jax will be on live TV every week. Dave Meltzer noted in the Observer this week that there is expected to be another round of NXT call-ups in the Fall and it is believed Bayley will be a part of that group. They also switched up the announcers: RAW will have Michael Cole, Corey Graves & Byron Saxton, while the SmackDown crew will be Mauro Ranallo, JBL & David Otunga. It looks like Jerry Lawler could finally be done after all these years. For anyone that cares, Heath Slater was the only guy not drafted at the end of the night. And that, everybody, is how the WWE are going to turn business around and make wrestling as hot as it was during the Attitude Era.
On a somewhat related note to the Draft, it was reported in this week’s Observer that some of the top names in the Cruiserweight Class have been offered contracts. Cedric Alexander, Mascara Dorada, Akira Tozawa & Kota Ibushi are all believed to have been offered deals and there is also word that Yoshihiro Tajiri is been considered for some kind of role. Meltzer noted that “sources” in Mexico confirmed Dorada agreed to a deal on 15/7, however the story so far is that none of the guys in question have signed because there is still the due diligence to complete with the medicals and such. Ibushi actually worked the NXT TV tapings last week and was victorious in a match over Buddy Murphy. PWTorch reported on 15/7 that Ibushi & Dorada had agreed to deals and had a few more names the WWE are apparently interested in signing, including Zack Sabre Jr, Jack Gallagher & Lince Dorado.
After being popped by USADA following his three round unanimous decision victory over Mark Hunt at UFC 200, Brock Lesnar issued a statement to the Associated Press on 16/7 and noted, “We will get to the bottom of this.” It was widely reported that Brock had been tested an extraordinary amount of times after he was announced for UFC 200 and that he had passed all but one of the anti-doping tests. Well on 19/7 the UFC released a statement and noted that USADA had informed them that Lesnar had failed a second separate test. Lesnar first failed an out of competition test on June 28th for an unnamed substance, which even prompted WWE to release a statement saying that Brock had not wrestled since April 3rd and was not scheduled to perform until August 21st at SummerSlam. The release from UFC on 19/7 confirmed that Lesnar failed a separate in-competition test on July 9th – the day of UFC 200 – and that he had been flagged for the same substance. Lance Pugmire from the LA Times noted on Twitter that an official with knowledge of Brock’s test informed him that the substance in question is clomiphene – the very same oestrogen blocker that numbskull Jon Jones was popped for. This once again raises the question regarding the WWE’s Wellness Policy, which in fact explicitly names clomiphene as a banned substance, although it is completely possible that Lesnar passed the WWE’s tests – that is if he has even been tested at all. Brock is still scheduled to face Randy Orton at SummerSlam, however we’ll see what action, if any, they take should Lesnar be given a two year suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
WWE had another lawsuit thrown at them this week, as 53 former performers filled a class action suit with the federal court of New Haven, CT, against the company regarding the much debated independent contractor status of the wrestlers and, of course, the hot-button issue of concussions. The lead plaintiff is Joe “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis, the brother of former Executive Vice President of Talent Relations, John Laurinatis. After being ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial for the murder of Nancy Argentino only last month, Jimmy Snuka is on the list, although he is been represented by his wife and guardian Carole Snuka. A few other “big” names included are, Chavo Guerrero Jr, Kamala, Marty Jannetty, Demolition Ax & Smash, plus the Warlord & the Barbarian. Some of the other names involved in the case are downright laughable: Sabu, Jim Brunzell, Omar Mijares, Don Leo Jonathan, Shane Douglas, Judy Martin, Bernard Knighton (the father of Axl Rotten), Rip Oliver, Bobbi Billard, Mantaur, Black Bart and Slick. For one reason or another these names standout as being utterly ridiculous and it shouldn’t take a judge with half a brain long at all to see the absurdity of some of these claimants. Another incredible aspect of the case is that many of the claimants are in fact still active wrestlers: Chavo Jr, Sabu, Johnny the Bull Stamboli, Mark Jindrak, Warlord & Barbarian are just a few jokers who jumped on this suit despite the fact they they are all still working somewhat regularly. Then there are names like Dave & Earl Hebner, which are about as preposterous as it gets.
Konstantine Kyros, one of the key lawyers for the prosecution, has filled numerous suits against the WWE on behalf of former wrestlers, most of which were thrown out of court due to the three year statute of limitations law in Connecticut. Since the majority of the plaintiffs have not in fact worked for WWE in the last three years, it looks like there is an unassailable precedent in place. The lawsuit claims that WWE deliberately withheld, “medically important and possibly lifesaving information” and, “the head trauma that has resulted in injury is the accumulated effect of many impacts to the Plantiffs’ heads that occurred on a regular, routine basis during their WWE career.” The complaint also alleges that the WWE neglected to provide care for the injured wrestlers and that the company “placed corporate gain over its wrestlers health, safety and financial security, choosing to leave the Plaintiffs severely injured and with no recourse to treat their damaged minds and bodies.” As noted, previous cases relating to CTE were thrown out of court due to the statute of limitations expiring, so going after the WWE for not recognising the wrestlers as employees is an attempt to make something stick. The issues raised by Kyros and his team and the same ones that have been talked about for years when it comes to the independent contractor status of pro wrestlers: unfair booking contracts that give the talent virtually zero employment rights and the ability of the company to “fraudulently misrepresent and deceive the Plaintiffs and the federal government.” WWE responded with a public statement on 18/7 and it seems like Jerry McDevitt, whom is becoming a pro at arguing against CTE related suits, isn’t too worried about this latest legal threat:
“This is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney who has previously filed class action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed” said the company in a statement after the suit was filed. “A federal judge has already found that this lawyer made patently false allegations about WWE, and this is more of the same. We’re confident this lawsuit will suffer the same fate as his prior attempts, and be dismissed.”
The full 214 page document is available here and it certainly makes for some interesting and at times unintentionally comical reading. For example, here is the description of Earl Hebner from the complaint:
“68. Plaintiff – Earl Hebner (“Earl Hebner”) is 66 and resides in King William, Virginia. Identical twin brother to Plaintiff Dave Hebner, Earl Hebner is considered the most famous referee in WWE history and was the Senior WWE Referee from 1988 to 2005, officiating most WWF events during those years. During his 17-year career he officiated more high profile matches than nearly every referee in WWE history. Earl Hebner sustained major and numerous injuries in his role as referee which was part of many famous storylines. One fan writer observes: “I have many pleasant memories of Earl the official; mostly stemming from his incredible bumping ability. A referee who can take an awesome bump is an underrated commodity… Earl would take such a severe bump that it was believable that he’d be lying around injured for minutes afterwards. He’d draw gasps from the crowd.” As a result of the numerous and repeated head trauma Earl Hebner sustained while employed by WWE, he now suffers from neurological injuries and cognitive difficulties, including, but not limited to, headaches, dizziness, loss of memory, and fatigue.”
New Japan kicked off the 26th G1 Climax tournament with opening night taking place in Sapporo on 18/7 in front of 5,333 fans at the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Centre. While the new format introduced last year makes it difficult for opening night of the G1 to be a blow-away show like in the past, this year we had three excellent tournament matches and two relatively big upsets to get things started. The first match in the A Block, and the tournament, saw Hiroyoshi Tenzan down Tomohiro Ishii in 14:08 with the TTD & a Moonsault. It became an incredibly heated affair after Tenzan kicked out of everything Ishii had and the crowd went nuts for the story of broken down old man Tenzan turning back the clock. Kojima added a lot to the story by being at ringside and he celebrated with Tenzan after his big win. The only negative were a series of at least six unprotected ramming headbutts, which was highly uncomfortable to watch. Still, this kind of feel-good story is very rare in pro wrestling these days and it was truly refreshing as a fan to see something so emotionally charged, (**** ¼). The second A Block outing saw Togi Makabe beat Tama Tonga in 10:37 with the King Kong Knee Drop; it was a solid match but the crowd didn’t really take to Tonga at this level, (***). Hirooki Goto defeated Bad Luck Fale in 9:18 with the GTR to pick up his first two points, (** ½). Semi-final saw Sanada tap-out Hiroshi Tanahashi clean in the middle with the Skull End Dragon Sleeper at 19:30. Like every Tanahashi match, it was worked expertly; Sanada worked over Tanahashi’s bad left arm and Tana went after the knee as usual. Sanada hit an Ace Crusher to counter a High Fly Flow just like Randy Orton then hit a couple of Moonsaults before applying the Dragon Sleeper – Tanahashi’s old finisher – for the win, (****). Main event had the big upset, with NOAH Vice President Naomichi Marufuji pinning the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada in 19:07. Marufuji took a lot of the match and landed a bunch of stiff chops; he also worked over Okada’s arm, which meant Okada could never hit the Tombstone or the Rainmaker. Similarly, Marufuji could not hit his Shiranui, as Okada countered each time. Finish saw Marufuji hit a series of strikes, including a brutal looking Superkick, and he got the pin with a Pole-Shift-style Emerald Flowsion. The little touch of having Misawa’s move be the decisive blow for NOAH to be victorious over New Japan was an inspired decision, (**** ½).
The B Block got underway on 22/7 at Korakuen Hall in front of 1,738 fans and while there was nothing quite at the level of the three ****+ matches on Night One, it was still a fun show overall with a couple more upsets to start the tournament off. Katsuhiko Nakajima beat Toru Yano in 3:51 with the Vertical Spike Brainbuster; it was fine for what it was – Yano did all of his usual spots and the crowd bought all his near-falls, (** ¼). Yoshi-Hashi upset Kenny Omega in his first ever G1 match at 12:16. Match turned out to be pretty good and the crowd were into Yoshi-Hashi as the underdog; he used Nakamura’s Bomaye and a new move called “Karma” – kind of like a wrist-clutch Landslide for the win, (*** ½). Evil downed the IC Champion Michael Elgin in a big mean hoss match at 10:54; they pounded on each other the entire match and Evil won with his Evil STO, (*** ¾). Semi-main was Yuji Nagata over Tetsuya Naito with the Backdrop Suplex hold in 15:32 in a solid encounter; fans went nuts when Nagata won, (*** ½). Main event saw Tomoaki Honma pin Katsuyori Shibata in 11:11 with a Kokeshi headbutt off the top; match was good but there was something missing from the usual Korakuen main event, (*** ½). Honma cut a promo afterwards and made all the fans stand up and shout, “Kokeshi is happy, we’re all happy.”
The first round of the 2016 Super J-Cup also took place this week on 20/7 at Korakuen Hall in front of 1,606 fans. Highlight of the show was the main event which saw the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion Kushida defeat Taiji Ishimori of NOAH in 16:25 with the Hoverboard Lock, (**** ¼). Semi-final had Ryusuke Taguchi over Daisuke Harada from NOAH in 14:56 with a Dodon, (*** ½). The GHC Jr Heavyweight Champion Yoshinobu Kanemaru downed Bushi with the Touch-Out Brainbuster in 10:25 (***). Will Ospreay beat Titan from CMLL in 9:14 with the Os Cutter, (*** ½). One of the other great matches on the show saw Jushin “Thunder” Liger down Eita from Dragon Gate in 9:12 with a Brainbuster, (****). Taichi from NOAH beat Yuma Aoyagi of All-Japan in 12:05 with a Lariat; highlight was Taichi’s model, Miho Abe, who distracted Milano Collection AT the entire match, (** ¾). Kenoh of NOAH downed Gurukun Mask from Ryukyu Dragon in a really fun match in 11:34 with the Rago 360 Powerbomb, (*** ¾). Opener saw Matt Sydal representing ROH over the popular Kaji Tomato of K-Dojo in 7:56 with the Shooting Star Press, (***).
The second round, semi-finals and final of the Super J-Cup take place on 21/8 at the Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo and here’s the line-up for the culmination of the tournament.
* Super J-Cup Round Two: Jushin “Thunder” Liger (NJPW) vs. Taichi (SKZG).
* Super J-Cup Round Two: Will Ospreay (Chaos) vs. Matt Sydal (ROH).
* Super J-Cup Round Two: Rysuke Taguchi (NJPW) vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru (SKZG).
* Super J-Cup Round Two: Kushida (NJPW) vs. Kenoh (NOAH).
* Super J-Cup Semi Final: (Liger or Taichi) vs.(Kushida or Kenoh).
* Super J-Cup Semi Final: (Taguchi or Kanemaru) vs. (Ospreay or Sydal).
* Super J-Cup Final: ??? vs. ???.
DDT did a great crowd of 1,536 fans on 17/7 at Korakuen Hall with Konnosuke Takeshita making the second defense of the KO-D Openweight title against Tetsuya Endo. Takeshita retained the title with a German Suplex in 24:08 and afterwards, Endo turned heel and joined Daisuke Sasaki’s Damnation faction. Semi-main event was Shigehiro Irie’s send off match as he is heading over for an excursion of the US – no word on where he’ll end up as of yet. Irie & Yukio Sakaguchi beat Harashima & Keisuke Ishii when Irie pinned Ishii with the Beat Bomber in 13:55. Also on the card, the Dick Togo Return Series rolled on, as Dick Togo & Yasu Urano beat Kazusada Higuchi & Kouki Iwasaki in 13:42 when Togo hit his Senton on Iwasaki. For full results, visit puroresuspirit.net. On another DDT note, it was reported in the Observer this week that “Speedball” Mike Bailey is on his way to DDT.
Rizin Fighting Federation announced they are running four shows at the Saitama Super Arena, with New Year’s Eve being the biggest and featuring the semi-finals and final of a 16-man open weight tournament that will include Mirko Cro Cop & Wanderlei Silva. The tourney begins on 25/9 and the quarter-finals will be on 29/12; Rizin are also running a show on 30/12, the night before the finals on 31/12. Some of the first round matches include, Kazuyuki Fujita vs. the 6’6, 380lbs former sumo wrestler, Baruto, Hideo Tokoro vs. Kron Gracie and Asen Yamamoto vs. Kizaemon Saiga. Gabi Garcia is also expected to fight on one of the four Saitama shows, likely against Kanako Murata – a wrestler who had hopes of making it to the Olympics this year bur was not picked due being in the same weight class as Saori Yoshida.
Dragon Gate have a big show this weekend on 24/7 at the Kobe World Kinen Hall in Hyogo. Here’s the full line-up:
* Gamma, Takehiro Yamamura & Kaito Ishida vs. Naoki Tanizaki, Mondai Ryu & Cyber Kong.
* Genki Horiguchi H.A.Gee.Mee!!, Ryo “Jimmy” Saito, Jimmy K-ness J.K.S. & Futa Nakamura vs, “Hollywood” Stalker Ichikawa, Big R Shimizu, Shachihoko Boy & U-T.
* El Lindaman vs. Jimmy Kanda.
* Special Tag Team Match: Masaaki Mochizuki & Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs. Don Fujii, Masakatsu Funaki.
* Open the Brave Gate Championship: Yosuke♡Santa Maria (C) vs. Eita
* Open the Twin Gate Championship: Jimmy Susumu & Jimmy Kagetora (C) vs. Naruki Doi & Brother Yasshi.
* Open the Triangle Gate Championship Match: Masato Yoshino, Akira Tozawa & T-Hawk (C) vs. CIMA, Dragon Kid & Peter Kaasa vs. BxB Hulk, Kzy & Flamita.
* Open the Dream Gate Championship Match: Shingo Takagi (C) vs. Yamato.
Paul Heyman embarked on a three date spoken word tour of the UK last week and during his 13/7 show at York Hall in London, he offered Will Ospreay an open contract with Evolve. Heyman said that the deal would not tie Ospreay down to an exclusive deal and he would still be able to work for other independent companies, as well as Japan. Dave Meltzer reported in the Observer this week that Ospreay had not yet in fact signed with Evolve and is still believed to be in negotiations with both Evolve & ROH.
ROH’s Death Before Dishonor show on 19/8 is headlined by Jay Lethal vs. Adam Cole for the ROH World title. Katsuyori Shibata makes his US debut against Silas Young of all people. Toru Yano teams with Roppongi Vice against Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa. Shibata vs. Kyle O’Reilly has been announced for the 27/8 Field of Honor show in Brooklyn.
Cody Rhodes announced his Ring of Honor debut on Twitter this week and it looks like he will be working the Final Battle 2016 show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on 4/12.
Caristico tore his pelvis three weeks ago while working for Elite and missed several dates for both Elite and CMLL. He returned on 19/7 in Guadalajara at Arena Coliseo and teamed with Dragon Lee & Mistico against Euforia, Mephisto & Ultimo Guerrero. Caristico was stretchered out early after a Martinete Piledriver from Mephisto and Diamante Azul replaced him. Caristico came back at the end to distract Mephisto and helped the tecnicos get the win. It looks like they are building to a Mephisto/Caristico singles match and if Caristico can heal up in time the Anniversary show in September would make the most sense.
Sexy Star posted a lengthy adios to the Sexy Star character on Facebook last week and posted a picture of herself unmasked with the AAA Reina de Reinas championship belt. She will be wrestling for the first time without her hood on 4/9 at Arena Colieso in Monterrey on an independent show called “ColiseoMania.”
Dragon Lee said in an interview that he had to turn down a place in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic because of his knee injury; he also stated that his injury prevented him from working in ROH as well.
If you have not seen the wild LA Park/Rush match from the 14/7 Elite show, here is the link.
Some great pictures of a recent football game between CMLL and Elite; sadly no word on who won.
RAW on 18/7 did a 2.21 rating with 3,125,000 viewers. 8 pm did 3,204,000. 9 pm did 3,236,000 and 10pm, which went against the Republican National Convention with Donald Trump & Dana White, did 2,960,000.
SmackDown Live on 19/7 did a 2.20 rating with 3,170,000 viewers for the Draft and is the best SD number since February 7th 2014.
Lucha Underground on 20/7, the two hour Ultima Lucha Dos finale, did total 180,000 viewers, with 137,000 for the 8pm debut and 43,000 for the replay at 10pm. The number was up from last week’s 164,000, however they couldn’t top their best ever number of 219,000 from June 29th of this year.
TNA iMPACT on 21/7, the first show since moving to Thursdays, did 362,000 viewers, up slightly from the 358,000 they did last Tuesday.