The Pro-Wres Digest for June 4th – 10th
Seven time NWA heavyweight champion of the world, Harley Race, broke both of his legs after suffering a fall in his home in Troy, MO, on 30/5. WWE.com reported the news on 3/6 and noted that Race “sustained a fracture to his right femur and suffered breaks in his left fibula and tibia, as well as a spiral break of his left ankle.” He underwent immediate emergency surgery on 3/6 to relieve the swelling in his legs and subsequently received four blood transfusions, before undergoing another surgery on 2/6 to reset the fractures. Race turned 74 back in April and attended the NXT show in Missouri earlier in the year, where he reunited with one of his trainees Tommaso Ciampa. Ciampa Tweeted that his “thoughts and prayers are with Harley Race and his loved ones…”. We obviously echo the sentiment and wish Race all the best with his recovery.
Kazushi Sakuraba will be inducted into the Pioneer Wing of the UFC Hall of Fame during the International Fight Week ceremony on July 6th at the Park Theatre in Las Vegas. Sakuraba actually only had two fights in the UFC, both on the UFC Japan show on December 21st 1997 and both against Marcus Silveira. The bizarre story of the UFC Japan show ended up being booked better than any pro-wrestling angle could have ever possibly been and turned Sakuraba into a national superstar. Sakuraba was a last minute replacement for Hiromitsu Kanehara, who had the goal of getting some attention for the short-lived shoot-stlye pro-wrestling promotion, Kingdom, by competing in the UFC. Just three months before UFC Japan, Kanehara beat Sakuraba in a shoot-style match for Kingdom with a brutal head-kick. Kanehara was injured during training and Sakuraba ended up becoming the Japanese poster-boy for pro-wrestling in the battle with MMA. In the first round of the heavyweight tournament at UFC Japan, Sakuraba – who was by no means a heavyweight and weighed 183lbs on that night in 1997 – lost in controversial manner to Marcus Silveira, who tipped the scale at 243lbs. Referee John McCarthy stopped the fight after Silveira dropped Sakuraba with some shots, however Sakuraba was going for a single-leg takedown at the time McCarthy stepped in. The decision was later changed to a No-Contest. Tank Abbott was forced to pull out of the final championship fight after injuring his hand in the previous round, which allowed Sakuraba the chance at redemption as he would face Silveira again in the tournament final. This time, Sakuraba submitted Silveira with an Armbar in 3:44 and famously stated afterwards, “in fact, professional wrestling is strong.”
Sakuraba became one of the stars of Pride during the early days of the promotion. He went on a nine-fight undefeated streak from 1997-2000, beating Vernon White, Carlos Newton, Vitor Belfort, Ebenezer Fontes Braga, Anthony Macias, Royler Gracie, Guy Mezger and Royce Gracie, with a draw against Allan Goes at Pride 4 being the only fight he didn’t win during this period. His first loss in Pride was in the semi-final of the famous 2000 Gran Prix against Igor Vovchanchyn – a fighter Sakuraba would have probably beaten on any other normal night. Unfortunately, the Pride 2000 Gran Prix on May 1st at the Tokyo Dome was far from a normal night. Sakuraba faced Royce Gracie in the quarter-final of the Gran Prix, however the fight was not about advancing to the next round of the tournament and instead was put together so the Gracies could try and get revenge for Sakuraba beating Royler at Pride 8. Of course, Sakuraba would become an even bigger star, win or lose, by representing Japan against the feared Royce Gracie. The fight had all kinds of stipulations that favoured the Gracies: Unlimited rounds, no time-limit, no KO’s, however in one of the most inhuman displays of fighting spirit ever documented, Sakuraba out-lasted Royce and won the fight when Helio Gracie told his son Rorion to throw in the towel at the 90 minute mark. Sakuraba came back out to face Vovchanchyn later that same night and was actually winning the fight up until the 11 minute mark of the first round when his body shut down and Vovchanchyn ended up pounding on him for the rest of the round. Sakuraba’s corner wouldn’t let him come back out for the second round and he lost via TKO.
Sakuraba cemented himself as “the Gracie Hunter” with victories over Renzo and Ryan in 2000 and even found time to beat Shannon Ritch in the meantime. He lost to some brutal Wanderlei Silva soccer kicks on March 25 2001 at Pride 13, but rebounded with a win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at Pride 15. He challenged Wanderlei again at Pride 17 on November 3rd 2001, but lost to due doctor stoppage and suffered a similar fate when he faced Mirko Cro-Cop after a nine-month layoff on August 28 2002. Sakuraba got a token victory over Gilles Arsene on November 24th 2002 before losing to Nino Schembri in March 2003 and then was once again fed to Wanderlei for a third time on August 10th 2003. Once again, he rebounded with a victory over Kevin Randleman on November 9th 2003, but went down in a unanimous decision to Antonio Rogerio Nogueria on New Year’s Eve 2003. Though well past his prime by this stage his next five fights went relatively well, with only one loss to Ricardo Arona blemishing the 2004-2006 era during which he got his win back from Schembri and defeated Ken Shamrock. There was controversy surrounding his TKO loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama on New Year’s Eve 2006, as Akiyama admitted to applying lotion before the fight and the decision was changed to a No-Contest.
Though Pride was dead, every start-up MMA group trotted out Sakuraba to try and get themselves some publicity. He lost an embarrassing fight to Royce Gracie in Los Angeles for Dynamite USA on June 2nd 2007; Gracie tested positive for performance enhancing drugs afterwards, however the result was not changed to a No-Contest. There were submission wins over a young Katsuyori Shibata for Hero’s in 2007 and Masakatsu Funaki for K-1 on New Year’s Eve of the same year. Sakuraba spent the next three years fighting for Dream and racked up a 3-5 record in the promotion, with his last professional MMA victory against Zelg Galesic on October 25th 2009. He also lost a unanimous decision to Kiyoshi Tamura on New Year’s Eve 2008 at K-1’s Fields of Dynamite. After losing his final fight in Dream to Yan Cabral on September 24th 2011, Sakuraba went back into pro-wrestling full-time for New Japan and had great Tokyo Dome matches with Shinsuke Nakamura in 2013 and Minoru Suzuki two years later. When Rizin FF started up, Nobuyuki Sakakibara didn’t waste any time bringing Sakuraba in for one final fight against the much younger Shinya Aoki on the company’s first show on New Year’s Eve 2015. The story of one of the most important and influential Japanese MMA stars of all-time finally came to a sad end when Aoki destroyed Sakuraba with somewhere in the range of 70 unanswered punches; Sakuraba’s corner eventually threw in the towel and his long storied career looked to have ended in a hugely indigent manner.
With his inclusion in the 2017 UFC Hall of Fame class, the final chapter of Kazushi Sakuraba’s MMA career can at least be closed with the honour and respect that the great man deserves. Nobody epitomised the Japanese ideal of the entertaining shoot fighter more than Sakuraba during the early days of MMA in the country. The pro-wrestling style mask he wore during his entrance was one thing, however Sakuraba took it one step further by incorporating actual professional wrestling techniques into legitimate fights, like his famous Mongolian chops, baseball slides, leaping foot-stomp, guard-passing cartwheels and, of course, his Double Wrist-Lock: The Kimura. Indeed, professional wrestling is strong.
After canceling the NXT house show at the Manchester Arena on 6/6 in wake of the terrorist attacks at the venue on 22/5, some of the NXT stars were in the city visiting victims of the bombings on the day of the canceled show. Bobby Roode, Nikki Cross, Mark Andrews & Jim Smallman from PROGRESS visited and 8 year-old girl who was injured in the attack. Lily Harrison was taken to hospital after leaving the Ariana Grande concert with serious shrapnel wounds and her mother Lauren was also injured during the attack. Sky News reported on the story, noting that 8 year-old Lily shared her father’s love of wrestling and that she had received a visit from Ariana Grande but was more nervous to meet the wrestlers. Ember Moon, Roderick Strong, Trent Seven & Jack Gallagher also donated items at the Red Cross to help with the emergency fund. The NXT tour of the UK started on 5/6 in Aberdeen, Scotland, while the show in Leeds on 7/6 was the first night in England due to the Manchester show being called off. They were also in Brighton on 8/6 and the tour wraps up with three shows at the Download Festival at Donington Park from 9/6-11/6.
Ron Starr (Robert Eugene Nutt) sadly passed away on 8/6 in his sleep due to a collapsed lung; he was believed to be 67 years-old. Rock Rims. Starr’s career started in 1972 for Eddie Graham in Florida in 1976 he won the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title from Pat Barrett while working in Oklahoma for Leroy McGuirk. He had stints in places like Mid-Atlantic, Central States, Oregon and even New Japan, as he challenged Tatsumi Fujinami for the WWF Junior Heavyweight title at Budokan Hall on September 30th 1980. Starr was a mainstay for Stampede Wrestling through the mid/late 80s and won the British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight title in 1984. He also formed a tag team with Honky Tonk Wayne Farris and they captured the Stampede International Tag Team titles in 1985. Starr headed to Puerto Rico in 1986 and beat Invader #1 in the finals of a tournament to crown the WWC Television champion. That same year, Starr teamed up with Chicky Starr and the two won the WWC North American Tag Team titles from Mighty Igor & Miguel Perez Jr. His full-time career ended in 1992, although he would return for one last run in Puerto Rico in 1997. Rock Rims wrote a really nice tribute to his friend on Facebook. Our sincere condolences go out to Ron Starr’s friends and family.
NOAH ran Korakuen Hall on 4/6 and did nearly double the amount of people they did for their last show in the building, drawing 1,405 fans to see Katsuhiko Nakajima successfully defend the GHC Heavyweight Championship over Muhammad Yone in the main event. Nakajima won with the Vertical Spike Brainbuster in 18:56 and afterwards Atsushi Kotoge stepped forward as the next challenger for the title on 25/6 in Koriyama. (6) Semi-main had Naomichi Marufuji & Maybach Taniguchi retaining the GHC Tag Team Championship over Cody Hall & Randy Reign in 21:34 when Taniguchi hit the Maybach Bomb Zwei on Reign. (5) Atsushi Kotoge downed Kenoh in 16:44 with the Killswitch. (4) Brain Cage beat Takashi Sugiura in 13:14 with the Drill Claw. (3) Go Shiozaki over Kaito Kiyomiya in 13:40 with the Go-Arm Lariat. (2) Masa Kitamiya & Akitoshi Sato beat Hajime Ohara & Hitoshi Kumano in 10:28 when Kitamiya hit the Saito Suplex on Kumano. (1) Opener had Daisuke Harada, Tadasuke, HAYATA & YO-HEY over Taiji Ishimori, Hi69, Yoshinari Ogawa & Seiya Morohashi in 10:35 when HAYATA pinned Morohashi with a Moonsault. There was also a remembrance ceremony for Mitsuharu Misawa before the show.
NOAH also announced the teams for this year’s Junior Heavyweight Tag League. The tournament will run from June 13th – 27th with the opening and final nights taking place at Korakuen Hall.
Taiji Ishimori & Hi69 (GHC Jr. Tag Champions).
Hajime Ohara & Hitoshi Kumano.
Daisuke Harada & Tadasuke.
HAYATA & YO-HEY.
Shunma Katsumata & MAO.
Phil Atlas & Seiya Morohashi.
Gurukun Mask & Shuri Joe.
Kaiser & Gaston Mateo.
In more NOAH news, former GHC Heavyweigh Champion Takashi Sugiura announced at a press conference on 5/6 that he is taking some time off to undergo atrial fibrillation surgery. Sugiura noted that he had been suffering from arrhythmia since 2011 and has been taking prescribed medicine to combat the symptoms. The medicine has become less effective over time and Sugiura’s doctor recommended surgery as his next option, as he had begun to experience dizziness during training. The operation is scheduled for July 14th, however he will need to have a months rest before the procedure to prevent any blood clots from forming. The surgery itself should only keep Sugiura out of action for a couple of months and he stated he is aiming to return in October.
Kairi Hojo worked her final match for Stardom on 4/6 at Shinkiba 1stRING before heading to the WWE Performance Centre. She actually ended up working 10 matches on her last night in Japan, with 9 special one-minute time-limit bonus matches taking place after the main event. Hojo, Hiromi Mimura & Konami lost the Artist of Stardom Trios Championship to Io Shirai,HZK & AZM in 15:20 when AZM pinned Mimura. Hojo then began her gauntlet against some of the top names in the company: She beat Hanan in 0:56, pinned Ruaka in 0:58, went to a 1:00 time-limit draws with AZM, Natsuko Tora, Konami, Jungle Kyona, Mayu Iwatani & Io Shirai, before pinning HZK in 0:40 with the Bombs away and beating Hiromi Mimura with her Diving Elbow Drop. All the wrestlers came out for Hojo’s send off and they all said goodbye to Kairi, who thanked everyone and cut a promo about her five and a half years in the promotion.
Wrestle-1 had a big show at Korakuen Hall on 6/6, drawing 798 fans. Main event saw Shotaro Ashino retain the Wrestle-1 Championship over Koji Doi in 18:28 with the Ankle-Lock. Semi-final had Masayuki Kono & Takanori Ito retaining the W-1 Tag Team Titles over Manabu Soya & Ganseki Tanaka in 15:56 when Ito pinned Ganseki with a German Suplex. Also on the show, MAZADA retained the W-1 Cruiserweight Championship over Kaz Hayashi in 12:23 with the Masada-Otoshi. Keiji Mutoh announced that Pro Wrestling Masters will return to Korakuen Hall on July 26th, with the main event being Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu & a mystery partner vs. Great Muta, The Great Kabuki & TNT (Savio Vega).
New Japan Dominion is from Osaka-Jo Hall on 11/6 and with the addition of the Junior title match there are now four Tokyo Dome rematches set for the show. Here are the big matches announced for what should be one of the best shows of the year:
* David Finlay, Tomoyuki Oka & Shota Umino vs. Hirai Kawato, Katsuya Kitamura & Tetsuhiro Yagi .
* Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata, Tiger Mask W & Tiger Mask IV vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Manabu Nakanishi & Jushin Thunder Liger.
* Michael Elgin vs. Cody.
* NEVER Openweight Six Man Championship Gauntlet Match: SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI (C) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, Juice Robinson & Ricochet vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi.
* IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship: Roppongi Vice (C) vs. The Young Bucks.
* IWGP Tag Team Championship: War Machine (C) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny.
* IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi (C) vs. KUSHIDA.
* NEVER Openweight Championship, Lumberjack Death Match: Minoru Suzuki (C) vs. Hirooki Goto.
* IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito (C) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi.
* IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (C) vs. Kenny Omega.
All Japan have a big afternoon show at Korakuen Hall on 11/6. Here’s the full line-up:
* Takao Omori, Masanobu Fuchi & Ryoji Sai vs. Yohei Nakajima, Keisuke Okada & Fuminori Abe.
* BANG! TV World Heavyweight Championship: Osamu Nishimura (C) vs. Rikiya Fudo.
* Joe Doering, Atsushi Aoki & Hikaru Sato vs. Naoya Nomura, Yuma Aoyagi & Koji Iwamoto.
* Jun Akiyama, Ultimo Dragon & Atsushi Maruyama vs. TAJIRI, Yutaka Yoshie & Minoru Tanaka.
* World Tag Championship Match: Kengo Mashimo & KAI (C) vs. Zeus & The Bodyguard
* Special Single Match: Suwama vs. Kento Miyahara.
* Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship Match: Shuji Ishikawa (C) vs. Jake Lee.
Universo 2000 suffered a heart attack 6/6 and was originally said to be in grave condition, however his condition eventually stabilised. He had been having some health issues for a while and suffered a heart attack last year also. Our thoughts go out to him and the family.
Marco Corleone became the new CMLL Heavyweight Champion on 6/6 at the Arena Coliseo Guadalajara show. The title was vacated after the former champion Maximo was fired for being involved in the Alvarado family smashing up Ultimo Guerrero’s car. Corleone won a Cibernetico match involving Mr. Niebla, Rush, Gran Guerrero, Pierroth, Terrible, Dragon Rojo Jr, Rey Bucanero, Kraneo & Euforia. The only footage of the title change to emerge so far is a fan Periscope video.
As is now customary on AAA shows, only one of the advertised matches for the 6/4 show in Ciudad Juarez actually took place. They might as well not even bother promoting matches in advance anymore. Main event saw Carta Brava Jr & Soul Rocker lose their masks in a three-way against the teams of Dr Wagner Jr & Psycho Clown and Monster & Murder Clown. Carta Brava unmasked as Sergio Marca, with 15 years in the business. Soul Rocker was revealed to be Ignacio Patino, who worked as Tito Santana in the Monterrey, Nuevo Leon region (not the WWF one) also had 15 years in the industry. Semi-main event had Dark Cuervo & Dark Scoria over El Mesias & Pagano, Aerostar & Drago and Australian Suicide & Bengala to become the new AAA Tag Team champions. Other news from the show: Hijo de Fantasma & Texano Jr some how were awarded a draw in a three-way Cage Match with Kevin Kross; Fantasma & Texano left the cage at the same time, so Vampiro booked them in a three-way with Johnny Mundo for all the singles titles at TripleMania on 27/8. Pimpinela Escarlata also beat Mamba in a hair vs. hair match on the show.
The Alianza Universal de Lucha Libra (AULL) promotion ran a special show on 3/6 at Arena Lopez Mateos in Tlalnepantla de Baz. It was promoted as the 50th anniversary of the promotion, however AULL has only been around since 1990 when Hectos Guzman Jr founded the company. The legitimate 50th anniversary was actually that of the building, which Hector Guzman Sr established as a home for lucha libre events in 1967 and promoted shows in the arnea for decades. Main event on the 3/6 show was Dr. Wagner Jr beat Blue Demon Jr; Wagner wore his classic white gear and won via DQ when Demon fouled him. There was a ceremony to honour Dr Wagner Sr, Blue Demon Sr, and Hector Guzman Sr afterwards.
Ultimo Guerrero defeated Ultimo Dragon in the main event of the MDA: Lucha Memes show at Arena Puebla on 4/6.
Pro Wrestling Sheet reported on 5/6 that WWE will be running live events in the UK twice a month when the United Kingdom Live TV series officially begins. Ryan Satin noted that the plan is to shoot TV every six weeks and to run house shows every other week in the UK. It was also reported that some of the top UK stars were signed to new deals, including Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Wolfgang & Mark Andrews. There’s no word yet on when the show is due to begin airing, but the first few episodes have already been taped and should appear on the Network in the very near future. WWE actually announced that the show would be ready to go after the NXT TakeOver: Chicago show two weeks ago, but for whatever reason things were delayed.
Kevin Owens Tweeted on 6/6 that he had broken his thumb, but noted he would not be missing any ring time because he is the “toughest man alive.”
RAW on 5/6 did a 2.03 rating with 2,984,000 viewers, up from last week’s disastrous 1.75 rating and 2,613,000. 8pm did 3,113,000. 9pm did 3,110,000 and 10pm did 2,758,000.
SmackDown on 6/6 did 2,349,000, which is virtually identical to the 2,350,000 the show did last week.
Lucha Underground on 7/6 did 111,000 for the first run at 8pm and 38,000 for the replay, up from last week’s 65,000 and 36,000.
Impact on 8/6 did 318,000, up from the 287,000 last week.
Thanks for reading, everybody! We’ll see you next week.