Cubed Circle Newsletter 136: Hiroshi Tanahashi Autobiography, ROH War of the Worlds, Road to Payback + More!

Cubed Circle Newsletter 136 – Hiroshi Tanahashi Autobiography & Payback A Week Away

We are back up and running here at CCN HQ and have a super diverse issue for you this week looking at the Hiroshi Tanahashi autobiography courtesy of Yottsume, ROH War of the Worlds, the penultimate RAW and SmackDown shows on the road to Payback in Chicago, one of the worst non-holiday non-football RAW ratings in 17 years – plus Ben Carass covers the NXT go-home show for Takeover!

FOR A FULL COLOUR PDF CLICK HERE!

Hiroshi Tanahashi Autobiography Available in English – Kind Of

 

In April a semi-shoot Hiroshi Tanahashi autobiography entitled Why Hiroshi Tanahashi was able to change NJPW was published by AsukaShinsha Publishing and was made available at a wide variety of Japanese book and media outlets. Unfortunately, as one would expect, translating in full a 250+ page book for the consumption of a minuscule foreign audience, would not in fact be good business practice. However, much like the Toru Yano VTR DVDs, which most foreign fans expected to never see translated into English, fan translator Yottsume gave us but a small tid-bit of what lies inside of the Hiroshi Tanahashi autobiography.

 

One element of mystique surrounding puroresu for many a foreign fan is the lack of first, or even second hand at times, accounts of promotional happenings from top domestic stars. Inevitably, inside information does get sourced in some form, a lot of the time from gaijin in their later career retrospectives. But, news of this sort is slow moving, especially when considering active gaijin stars. This is but one of the reasons that the Prince Devitt interview with Colt Cabana and the Davey Boy Smith Jr. interview with Dave Meltzer & Bryan Alvarez last year were so very enthralling. Of course, there are always people within major companies, especially the size of a New Japan, that have the means and the desire to speak with foreign publications like the Observer, and many of the local newspapers and wrestling magazines still highly active within the country serve to give often vague, but still important insights into the workings of the current Japanese business.

 

Amongst some of the major topics discussed by Tanahashi in the four excerpts that have been translated at this time are his thoughts on steroids, strong-style, his wrestling idols, Inoki, and what he calls the “MacDonalization” of pro-wrestling, which is for all intents and purposes the growth and utilization of dangerous moves and high spots – in the selected pieces he also touches on his current NJPW contemporaries, namely Shibata, Naito, Nakamura and Anderson/Bernard (not so current), as Bad Intentions and the role that they played in making him the star that he is. His commentary on Shibata, much like many of Shibata’s recent comments pertaining to Tanahashi, is one that walks a fine line between work and shoot, with the ratio between the two far from defined. As far as I can ascertain from what I read from Tanahashi, as well as all of the news that circulated following Shibata’s loss at the 2013 Dome show, the major legitimate gripe of Tanahashi and a large portion of the locker room with Shibata, seems to be that he left the company in 2005 when the company was on the decline, only to return in 2012 once the promotion was already on an upswing.

Hiroshi Tanahashi Autobiography English

Tanahashi quotes Shibata as saying “I’m starting to enjoy pro-wrestling” during his G1 Climax 2013 run, at which point Tanahashi quipped “Of course you’ll enjoy wrestling in front of a full, packed, hectic crowd!”. Tanahashi went on to explain in the section dedicated to his opinion on Shibata that what he and the rest of the locker room at the time of Shibata’s departure would have wanted was for him to help rebuild the company alongside them. Another criticism was of Shibata being allegedly offered many creative directions in 2005, but responding with little interest and not returning with any alternative ideas to what was suggested. Of course Shibata’s in-ring style was also a criticism – “Shibata is like a junior high student who has just entered his rebellious age. Pro-wrestling is a brawl? Killing? Then why are you wrestling in the first place!”

 

These comments certainly do correlate, to a certain extent, with what we have in reality seen over the two and a half years in the company’s use of Shibata. He was given a strong push upon his return with New Japan owner Takaaki Kidani, who was then at the time also acting as New Japan president, incredibly high on both he and Sakuraba, looking to do a shooter invasion type angle. But, friction between Kidani and a combination of talent and management led to a toxic situation, one that ultimately resulted in Kidani stepping down as president (remaining owner) and Shibata and Sakuraba losing for the first time since their return, at the 2013 Dome show – one of the best shows of the last decade. It was the wrong decision for Shibata at the time to lose to Makabe, just as it was for Shibata to incur his most recent loss to Shelton Benjamin during the New Japan Cup of this year. Whilst these decisions have cost Shibata in terms of superstar aura, at least somewhat, and were in and of themselves negative business decisions, the initial confrontation between talent and Kidani that led to him stepping down as president inevitably saved the company from many of Kidani’s, at the time, zany Attitude-Era inspired booking ideas. There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of what Tanahashi has said about Shibata reflects his true feelings towards the man. I do sense though that due to the synergy and timing of the comments made here, as well as in interviews with Shibata over recent weeks, the semi-worked nature of the book, and timing there was a non-zero degree of embellishment going on here – even if that embellishment was purely due to his past feelings not reflecting his current sentiments.

 

Tanahashi did have more to say regarding in-ring work than just a few passing comments on Shibata’s in-ring style. Tanahashi, as the top star of the promotion, built many of his arguments around the idea of new and potential fans, and what they would think of the product upon a first time viewing. It’s a fresh stance from an established top star, with Tanahashi even stating that due to the harsh reactions that he was receiving as a babyface in 2006 that he adopted the high-fly flow to attempt to win over new fans – “Wrestling that the first-timers can enjoy.” Tanahashi also discussed briefly ring attire and presentation with a surprising reference made to his matches with Yano, as the kind of match rendered instantly engaging to newer fans. Particular emphasis was given to the product being enjoyable for women and children and not just the “core” fans. When referencing the early 2000s Inoki-era Tanahashi commented, – “We should make it enjoyable for everyone.-I look around the venue with that in mind, I noticed that all the kids and female fans that once flooded the venue were all gone.”. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean an easing towards a WWE style, with this Kidani quote thrown around “Entertainment is done when people are bored with the product” – when “entertainment” refers to sports-entertainment style from what I can ascertain.

 

If his matches with Yano was on extreme on the new-fan-friendly wrestling spectrum, “Bachi Bachi”, that is the super-stiff/MMA influenced style of Shibata and company, would be on the opposing end as he believes that “Pro-wrestling is a competition of winning three counts from the opponent, and it is by no means a ‘stunning contest’ where you stir up the crowd with series of dangerous moves.” In addition Tanahashi also argues that more dangerous moves will lead to an escalation in the expectations of fans, which is in fact a real issue – “More intensity. And the wrestlers [will] have to escalate their violence”. And this leads to what Tanahashi calls the “McDonalization” of pro-wrestling. What Tanahashi spoke of was the “music between the notes” that so many American veterans speak of. In fact, he goes on to make a somewhat poetic statement on the matter – “[if the musics between the notes is lost] The beauty of pro-wrestling will be lost forever”. His admiration for the repetitive sequences of the likes of Ric Flair was also made abundantly clear – “For example, I consider moves like Inoki’s Enzugiri and sequence where Ric Flair is thrown off the top rope, to be art”. This makes sense when looking at the in-ring style of Tanahashi, and how the same people who tend to criticize Flair’s work often times do the same to Tanahashi’s. He also heavily criticized the use of the words “strong style” and the high esteem to which much of the talent holds the word due to Antonio Inoki and his influence. That’s why I decided that the first thing I’d do was get rid of Strong Style. I ventured to say, “Strong Style is only a word. It’s a curse.”” People had responded to this statement, according to Tanahashi, with reactions such as “How dare he get rid of Strong Style.” and “Tanahashi does not deserve Strong Style.” And so he ventured to ask “What exactly is this ‘Strong Style’ that you speak of”? In talking with Inoki Tanahashi brought up the matter, with Inoki replying “It’s something that people around me brought up on their own.”

 

Whilst one can agree with a lot of what Tanahashi says about dangerous moves and the like, there was quite the curious contradiction of so much of what was to be preached subsequently when Tanahashi spoke of his love for Dynamite Kid with what many, including myself, will see as quite the outrageous quote – “People won’t buy into wrestlers who want to have long and healthy life”! I would like to hope that this is more a cultural misinterpretation than what actually seems mean at face value. At the same time Tanahashi also made positive comments in terms of pro-wrestling health when discussing steroids during his Dynamite Kid commentary – “Even to this day, when I wrestle in Mexico, people ask me “You’re anabolic (on steroids), right?” and I deny [it] saying that “I’m natural”. And honestly, those questions have been bothering me.” Tanahashi is now calling his style, targeting all audiences, De-Strong Style, which I believe is a title much like Wrestling And Romance or Pro-Wrestling Love, a title that one lacking familiarity with the language would find difficult to understand.

 

The single paragraph or two that I found the most interesting out of the several pages translated was Tanahashi’s impetus for working in the manner that he did one of my favourite matches of all-time against Minoru Suzuki in 2012 as the main event on the company’s first iPPV. One of the strangest aspects about that match was the absence of any and all nearfalls with the first cover being the last in a 30 minute, main-event-style New Japan match, but I have always just assumed that it was what both men thought to work best for that individual match, perhaps it was an effort to try something a little experimental. In actuality it was an outside influence that sparked the genius of that match. According to Tanahashi, former UWFi, NJPW and PRIDE star, Nobuhiko Takada, had called Tanahashi’s style around that period “Power Ranger stunt”, which led to Tanahashi wanting to prove himself that night. Unfortunately, there was no mention made of Takada’s response, if any, after that classic. On the topic of criticism, Tanahashi also said that foreign fans recognized his talents before those in Japan, citing his awards both in the Observer as well as in Powerslam – no mention of us.

 

Many top drawing stars and phenomenal workers have a firm grasp on their own place in the business, but some are unable to articulate exactly what it is that made them successful, or what they do in the ring that sets them apart from everyone else. Tanahashi however, from what I have read, seems like the kind of performer to have not only internalized what has made him great as a performer, but is also able to communicate authoritatively the aspects of his body of work that made him a top star. He relates those concepts to his core ideals surrounding the identity of pro-wrestling itself, and in turn applies them to other people. Perhaps this will make Tanahashi more well suited for a managerial role within the company upon reaching the end of his career as a performer, whenever that may be.

 

These translations have been a real treat for non-native-Japanese speaking fans of New Japan pro-wrestling, and there is even more available at yottsumepuroresu.blogspot.com. With only a few pages of a 250+ page book, which should scale to around 300 pages given the compact nature of Kanji in relation to the English alphabet, there is most likely many more interesting stories and opinions sealed within that book that, unless there forms a Kazushi Sakuraba Me style translation group, we won’t get to read for a very long time. Still, thanks to Yottsume and others foreign fans now have access to more up to date and accurate translations of news relating to Japanese pro-wrestling than ever before.

 

ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds May 17th 2014

Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, New York, USA

 

Overall Thoughts:

 

I have heard many a person attempt to compare this show to the Global Wars iPPV in Toronto saying that either one was better for different reasons, but the two were such different shows that choosing favourites simplifies to personal preference. What made the Toronto show so good was not only the novelty factor of seeing the NJPW talent on an ROH branded show, but also the crowd, who seemed comprised of a large portion of frequent followers of both ROH & NJPW. The wrestling on that show was good, although by no means truly blow-away. This show on the other hand, as a whole, featured better wrestling, but surprisingly had the lesser crowd both in terms of knowledge and prolonged passion – although what it did have was anime podcaster Daryl Surat in the front row. The crowd reacted to most everyone on the show positively, but their knowledge of specific move sets placed some of the matches, including the main event, at a disadvantage heading in, as many of the nearfalls perhaps didn’t feel as grand. The ROH tag title match and Steen/Nakamura matches were the best on the show, with the latter having the opportunity to vastly overtake the former in my mind, hand it been for fewer comedy spots, Liger/Cole was good for what it was, although could have been made into something quite special had the fans reacted to Liger here in the same way that they did in Toronto. The decision to migrate Okada to the main event was also in my mind the right one. With the rebut of Daniels and Kazarian (Kazarian appeared on one ROH show in 2003, ironically losing to Daniels in a four-way) coming up with the moving to traditional pay-per-view, it feels as though ROH has some positive momentum heading into the later stages of 2014.

 

The Bullet Club, including Doc Gallows. made it down to AJ Styles’ US theme music, and were tremendously over. “F*** TNA” chants ensued with Styles saying that they had no one leader to “Bullet Club” chants. This brought Okada and Gedo down, which was pretty interesting given that Okada was still very much over, so they did know who he was, but for whatever reason they didn’t pop for the theme music. Gedo said that Okada could beat Styles, which brought down Elgin. He wanted a triple-threat, which doesn’t make sense from a challenger prospective. Styles and the Bullet Club had a huddle with Elgin & Okada agreeing, and Styles responding – “I’m game”.

 

1. Forever Hooligans & Takaaki Watanabe vs. Matt Taven, Tommaso Ciampa & ACH

 

ACH & the Hooligans were both popular with this crowd. Hooligans worked over ACH for a short while, Koslov landing the kazatzka kick. Ciampa unloaded with his knees on Romero in the corner proceeding a Koslov interception. The hot tag was made to ACH who of course ran wild with all of the crazy spots that he didn’t bust out at Global Wars, including his step up tope con giro. Taven pinned Watanabe with the bulldog DDT that he was using before Ambrose, but apparently hasn’t utilized in quite some time.

** ¾

 

2. Roderick Strong & BJ Whitmer w/ Jimmy Jacobs vs. Gedo & Jado

 

A “Gedo & Jado” graphic popped up for the entrance of Strong and Whitmer. Gedo sold for the majority of the match, which was a good call considering that Gedo has the better facials and is the all around better worker of the two. When the eventual hot tag was made to Jado, who looked as threatening as he has in years, with Strong and Whitmer selling as much as they reasonably could for his wacky offence. Gedo collided with Jado, but Strong was then caught with a chairshot to the head for a count of two. Strong then landed his sick kick on Gedo for the win – I would have expected Jado to take the fall, although with a perennial lower-midcarder pair like Gedo & Jado it doesn’t really matter. Jado, whilst working to a decent level in New Japan at this point, couldn’t utilize many of his usual comedy spots and realized this, and so therefore did feel somewhat limited.

** ½

 

Cedric Alexander ran down with a taped shoulder cleaning house for an eventual pull apart.

 

3. ROH TV Title Match

Jay Lethal w/Truth Martini vs. KUSHIDA

 

The pair kicked things off with an expected series of athletic exchanges, before Lethal got the advantage on KUSHIDA as a result of a Martini distraction out on the floor. What followed was a series of three topes from Lethal. Lethal grabbed a small package off of a dive from KUSHIDA for two. Corino made some crude Asian related jokes on commentary, which are part of the Corino package, but are still crude and unnecessary none the less. KUSHIDA landed a senton to the floor and looked to almost land on his neck. KUSHIDA was pulled off of a cover, Martini was removed from ringside, which allowed KUSHIDA to land a German suplex for two; he kicked out of the Lethal combination and executed a handspring kick before a frankensteiner of doom for two – “this is awesome” chants. There was a highly choreographed KUSHIDA handspring into a Lethal superkick and Lethal Injection for the win; a very good match.

*** ½

 

4. IWGP Tag Team Championship Match

Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows vs. Briscoe Brothers

 

Corino seems to lack some important instincts as an announcer, talking about how Anderson now has a new son, and Gallows had just gotten married, making the heels, supposedly, sympathetic and likeable. The fans duel chanted for the Briscoes and Bullet Club. The two teams brawled on the outside. Mark landed a crazy float over neckbreaker from the apron to the floor on Gallows! The Bullet Club landed numerous neckbreaker variations on Mark. Mark made it back in for the save and a redneck kung-fu spot knocking Gallows down. The Briscoes looked for their doomsday device on Karl, but Gallows made it in for the save, allowing Anderson to land a leaping Gun Stun on Mark out of mid-air – the Bullett Club retained the tag titles with their tag team neckbreaker. The two teams shook hands after the match, with Jay pulling Gallows in close not wanting to relinquish his grip.

***

 

5. Kevin Steen vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

 

Hyped for this I was. There was a Swagsuke sign in the crowd, which made me so very happy. Steen did streamer angels, such was the extent of the fans’ streamer adulation for the match. There was a Shield/Wyatt eque “this is awesome” chant before the match even started. Steen waded in with a jovial handshake leading into an elbow battle. Steen attempted to get Nakamura to breath calmly and telegraphed a kick. Steen missed a senton to the floor, which looked like no fun. Corino was going off about Nakamura not being a draw in his early years – and this matters why is a sporting context? Nakamura missed his kneedrop off of the apron and was powerbombed on the same surface moments later. Another brief elbow exchange ensued. Steen did Nakamura’s vibration and cannonball in the corner. Nakamura grabbed a front facelock, leading to ‘Kill Steen Kill” and “ole” chants. Steen countered the Boma Ye with a powerbomb. Steen landed his top rope fisherman’s buster once again for two. Steen kicked out of a Boma Ye at one, but was then immediately caught with a standing variant for the win.

****

 

After the match the crowd chanted “thank you Kevin” and Steen grabbed the mic and spoke of how he genuinely loved ROH despite the highs and lows that he has had with the company. Steen pointed out a heckler in the crowd and had the crowd chanting “a*****e” at him. Steen said that he wanted to step away for a while. This brought Silus Young out. He said that the champion looked like a lady boy, he Bucks looked like a couple of kids, and called Martini a fruit. Young said that Steen was the only other person resembling a real man in the company, but then said that he was going to back away like a “p****” and that he was teaching his son to be a quiter, which led to a brawl and pull-apart before intermission with Steen landing a top rope senton onto everyone on the outside but Silus Young. This was either an angle playing off of rumours that Steen is WWE bound and has a departure imminent, or a means to get heat on Young, whilst waiting to see what happens with Steen and his WWE try-out. The latter being the most likely in my mind.

 

6. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Michael Bennett w/ Maria Kanellis

 

Maria & Bennett kissed on the outside. Tanahashi was dropkicked out to the floor for some work. Kanellis was pushed into the arms of Tanahashi giving him a quick kiss and providing the distraction for Bennett. Tanahashi made his comeback with a dropkick to the injured knee of Bennett. Maria jumped up on the apron, Tanahashi called for her to get sent to the back, she slapped him, and was once again knocked down to the floor by Bennett. Tanahashi landed a slingblade and locked in a cloverleaf. Maria jumped in the ring, looked for a slap, but was herself locked in a cloverleaf. Bennett landed a spinebuster for two. He got the knees up off of the high fly flow with Tanahashi landing awkwardly on his knees. Tanahashi kicked out of a spear. Bennett locked in the anaconda vice, Tanahashi countered it for the visual pin while Sinclair was kissed by Maria. Tanahashi kicked out of the piledriver. The two battled on the apron with Bennett taking a straight jacket German on the apron! Tanahashi landed a high fly flow to the floor and then one in the ring for the win. – This was another good match, around the level that I expected, although heightened crowd reactions would have made for a better match. However, I don’t see why there was any need for Tanahashi to risk further injury and land a high fly flow out to the floor here; although it is commendable.

*** ¼

 

7. ROH World Tag Team Title Match

Young Bucks vs. reDragon w/ Tom Lawler

 

Tom Lawler has appeared on numerous radio shows, including Observer Live, talking about this appearance, approved by the UFC. Lawler had some scuba gear on hand, I guess because Bobby’s a fish, as well as a UFC style sponsor banner. The Bucks kicked the middle rope as Lawler was making his way to the outside, crotching him in the process – a particular in the UFC deal that allowed Lawler to attend this show was no physical contact, which I suppose this didn’t directly constitute. The Bucks landed their obstruction spiral tope for two. With tremendous foresight reDragon were working as heels with Lawler interfering numerous times on their part during the heat. Nick missed a moonsault and was speared into the barricade, ‘O Reilly shot in for his dropkick to the outside, but was caught with a superkick! Nick drilled ‘O Reilly with another setting up a wacky,m albeit creative, tag team spot where Fish ended up tombstoning ‘O Reilly. ‘O Reilly landed the missile dropkick into the corner on the outside. Many moves ensued. ‘O Reilly had a guillotine and locked in on Nick, when Matt shot in with a 450 for two. ‘O Reilly caught Matt Jackson in a triangle from an attempted More Bang for your Buck for two. Kyle landed a brianbuster again for two! Matt Jackson kicked out of chasing the dragon, but was then caught in an armbar as part of a double submission for the win.

**** ¼

 

8. ROH World Heavyweight Title Match

Adam Cole vs. Jushin Thunder Liger

 

There was a Jushin Liger video package leading into his entrance to the Liger theme song. The two shook hands before the match. Liger landed a crossbody from the apron and bent Cole in half with a dragon sleeper. Cole made it to the ropes with his teeth, forcing the break on a lateral surfboard. Liger was laid out on the floor with a superkick, which, much like at Border Wars, felt quite strange considering we had just seen the Bucks land a dozen or so superkicks in a single match. Cole worked over the back before being caught with a palm strike and frankensteiner . Liger landed a splash for two followed by a brainbuster to the same result. Liger looked to block a superkick, but was instead caught with one to the knee leading to the figure four. Liger kicked out of a superkick, but was caught in a figure four once more for the submission. Liger was clearly very limited here, even more so than his matches with SUSHI in Taiwan last year. “Thank you Liger” chants ensued, Liger offered a handshake but Cole instead walked off with the title.

** ¾

 

9. IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match

AJ Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada w/Gedo vs. Michael Elgin

 

There were some duelling “AJ Styles”/”Okada” chants early. Elgin and Okada kicked things off with Styles remaining on the outside. Elgin had Okada in a suspended vertical suplex,had his leg kicked, but pulled Okada back up, for a second and third time before being cut off with a basement dropkick. Okada drop kicked both men to the floor off of the turnbuckle. Styles went for a tope, but was met with an elbow from Elgin. Okada responded with a DDT on Elgin out on the floor. Elgin had both AJ Styles and Okada in his arms for a Samoan Drop/fall-away slam selling the knee. Elgin landed a middle rope codebreaker, barely selling the knee. Elgin reversed the tombstone, neglecting the pin in favour of selling the knee. Styles locked the Calf-Killer in on Elgin. Elgin was selling his knee strong. Okada landed the elbow and signalled for the Rain Maker, but was caught in an Elgin backslide for two. Elgin unloaded with lariats and landed a deadlift German on Okada, who was then caught with a 450 from Styles for two. Styles landed a pele, but Okada kicked his way out of the Styles Clash, landed a tombstone and went once more for the Rain Maker, but Elgin shot in with a series of lariats for two. Okada caught Elgin with a drop kick and landed a Rain Maker, but was drop kicked to the floor and lifted straight up for the Styles Clash and victory.

*** ¾

 

After the match Adam Cole ran down laying Okada, Styles and later Elgin out with his title screaming that he was the best in the world. After the show there was a video of Daniels grabbing an appletini and telling everyone that he was coming home at Best in the World. With someone who was clearly Frankie Kazarian standing buy, filmed up to his chest, wearing a blurred, black and white, Hulkamania shirt.

 

WWE Monday Night RAW May 19th 2014

O2 Arena, London, England

 

Overall Thoughts:

 

I enjoyed this week’s edition of RAW more than most over the past few weeks, mostly due to the crowd, which was, even at the show’s low points, very entertaining. This was of course to be expected given the European, specifically British, influence on post-Mania RAWs and how entertaining those are. I wouldn’t say that I found anything on the show all too memorable however, apart from the Shield promo, which was even for a team who regularly cut good promos, enthralling. Adam Rose was also fun as he usually is, something only made stronger by the fact that people were actually into the act this week. There was no Daniel Bryan on the show, which, even with the current Kane angle, left a major whole in terms of star power however. Overall – an enjoyable show.

 

The usual intro cut straight to Bray Wyatt singing ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’ with the crowd singing along. He went on a tirade talking about how a teacher told him that he would be nothing, that he stood for nothing, that he was rotten, that he was evil. The crowd switched quite swiftly from “what” chants to cheers and then they proceeded to sing so loudly, that I began to think that it was being piped in. Wyatt called Cena the hero that stood while everything around him burned – there were some “Cena sucks” chants. Wyatt proclaimed that he would be the last man standing when Cena’s music hit. Like a good babyface he attacked Wyatt, from behind landing an AA and slid back out past Harper and Rowan. Heyman was in the ring with Cesaro, having the fans speak along with him. He attempted to re-establish the heel/face dynamic saying that he and Cesaro were the stars, and the fans were the wannabes. He started again, with the fans miming along “Brock Lesnar” with him, which caused him to collapse in the ring asking the fans who or what he was impersonating – noting that he wasn’t the queen finally dying, but rather the Undertaker at WrestleMania – only he could sit up again. A great man this is. Sheamus was out for a match with Cesaro. There were chants for JBL and Lawler after some singing. The pair had a very fun TV match before Heyman stepped up onto the apron allowing Cesaro to land a bridging German suplex for the win. Sheamus offered Cesaro a handshake in the post-match, Cesaro of course refused and walked off.

 

The expected elimination stipulation was added to the Evolution/Shield trios match at Payback, only with the addition of an auxiliary no-holds barred stipulation. Given that the show will be in Chicago and the quality of their last match that should be one of the better matches of the year. Pictures of Roman Reigns’ cut suffered in Glasgow, which apparently drenched him in blood, were shown after a recap of last week’s main event angle. As no doubt the result of the fantastic ratings they have garnered in the country over recent months, there was a German announce team at ringside. This month’s meaningless number one contendership decider for the IC title was a one night Beat the Clock challenge – first up Big E and Ryback. There were “we want Barrett” chants at the 4:30 mark. Big E. pinned Ryback with the Big Ending in 5:02. Xavier Woods and Eva Marie were shown training Special Olympics athletes at the performance training during their tour of the facility. R-Truth was out with the Funcadactyles trying to get them to say “what’s up” while dancing – it didn’t work so well. Fandango and Layla walked out to much Fandangoing. Before the match got underway out came Summer Rae and she pulled Fandango in for a kiss and a cat fight ensued with Fandango pulling Layla off and walking back up the ramp. What happened to R-Truth and his match?

 

A third “unprecedented” season of Total Divas was announced – somehow I believe that Total Divas is not the first show on the E! Network to make it to a third season. Daniel Bryan’s music hit, but out came Stephanie McMahon in his place. Stephanie was playing her usual condescending corporate heel role . She said that she was afraid she had some… they cut to Bad News Barrett montage. She offered to award Kane, Barrett, or Batista Bryan’s championship. But, no, instead she demanded that Bryan show up next week to surrender the title. 3MB made it down to the Rolling Stones as the Union Jacks. Lana interrupted, “quite” chants, as she put Putin over. Some superimposed images on the Russian flag on the White House and the Palace of Westminster. Rusev said a few words in Bulgarian, drudged down the ramp, and proceeded to destroy the Union Jacks. Slater tapped in the camel clutch. The Shield were in the back with Rollins cutting a great promo saying how he had made a mistake last week, Batista beat him half to death, but he wouldn’t make any mistakes this week. The top listed shows on the Network for this week were: 1. WWE Main Event, 2. Slam City, 3. Legends’ House, 4. RAW Pre-show, 5. WWE Extreme Rules 2014, 6. WWE NXT, 7. RAW Backstage Pass, 8. WrestleMania Rewind, 9. WrestleMania 30, 10. WWE Countdown. Del Rio, booked in a Beat the Clock match with RVD, stated in an in-set promo that the future of the planet depended on his victory – no less preposterous than Bray Wyatt winning a pro-wrestling cage match resulting in the world’s end — I’m still waiting. Van Dam rolled ADR up in 4:15 following an extraordinarily clumsy and uncoordinated affair.

 

Renee Young was standing by in the back with John Cena inquiring about his strategy. He brought the Usos by as back up saying that they had no fear. They then proceeded to beat their chests, hum and sing; I don’t know what this was. Evolution were in the back, once again looking out of place in their t-shirts that, design wise, are not too bad. Triple H suggested that Batista take out Rollins, and Batista responded that he would do it all be himself. Rollins marched through the crowd for a match with Batista, all team members were banned from ringside. Triple H’s music hit, he was announced as the special guest ring announcer, as well as Randy Orton the special guest time keeper. Rollins then announced Reigns & Ambrose as special guest commentators, which didn’t make any sense given that they are the employees. There was a vague explanation later on involving Brad Maddox, but it was something that could have easily been missed and didn’t help explaining matters either. Ambrose was on commentary, Reigns of course said nothing. Orton served as a distraction, which sat the Shield up. Triple H pulled Rollins leg, which led to a Shield/Evolution brawl on the outside. Ambrose repeated his dive off of the announce table, steel chairs were also introduced. Rollins went for a tope, but was met with a right hand from Hunter leading to the DQ. Ambrose backdropped HHH over the announce table and Reigns laid Batista out with a spear. They went for the triple powerbomb, but Orton made the save. Alicia Fox was already in the ring for a rematch against Paige, who has all of a sudden gained fire. Fox pinned Paige following a superkick – home country? Must inexplicably beat! This time around Fox walked on the barricade steeling King’s crowd and dumping someone’s coke over her head.

 

Wyatt was in the back with Harper and Rowan for your standard unintelligible promo. There must have been some kind of mishap when it came to ring introductions of the final beat the clock match, as Justin Roberts stated that whoever won this match in the fastest time would get a shot at the IC title. Ziggler and Henry were booked for this final match. Ziggler landed the Zig Zag with about six seconds left, but couldn’t make the cover in time. Van Dam’s music hit seconds later, but was attacked from behind by Bad New Barrett. Barrett talked of the English inventing mean time. Barrett then stated that there was no way that he would lose the title to a “bloody yank” at Payback. I have heard people say that Barrett shouldn’t have been a babyface to this crowd, but anything else comes across as extremely disingenuous in my view. The Exotic Express shimmied down for the entrance of Adam Rose – it didn’t look to be over, but the crowd was singing his theme song very loud. Renee Young wanted to know what being a rosebud meant – to not be a lemon he said – they broke into song once more. Zeb Colter & Swagger marched down, also having their theme songs sung. Colter complained some about immigration, and wanted to settle it one-on-one with Rose. Swagger however struck Rose with a cheap shot, but Rose cleaned house and partied going to break.

 

There was another Bolieve vignette hyping his debut on SmackDown, Hogan was then also advertised very casually for the same show. Wyatt’s “[location] we’re here” gimmick is back. Cena, accompanied by the Usos, wrestled Harper in the main event in their 4th TV match! These fans sang “John Cena sucks” to the tune of his own theme music and intermittently switched to Adam Rose’s theme. A brawl broke out between the Wyatts and Usos, the latter of whom were both laid out with Sister Abigales in-ring. Wyatt laid Cena out next with the whole crowd singing and swaying. Rowan landed a fall away slam on the ramp and Wyatt landed a Sister Abigale on the stage. Wyatt sang with Harper counting to ten to close the show off.

 

RAW Ratings May 19th 2014

 

After what appeared to be a semi-consistent run of positive ratings over the past couple of months, this week’s edition of RAW, much like the ratings of the two or three prior editions of the show, placed as one of the worst rated shows of the year – the lowest rated in fact at this time. Not only that, but it will also place as one of the worst rated editions of non-football and non-holiday editions of the show since 1997. The show drew a 2.72 rating and 3.76 million viewers. It went up against a San Antonio Spurs/Oklahoma City Thunder NBA play-off game, which drew 6.36 million viewers, but even still none of the RAW shows during the play-offs dropped below a 3.9 last year, apart from the June 3rd edition of the show (3.68 million viewers – 2.6 rating), but it went up against the NBA season final, which drew 11.57 million viewers. The NBA season final this year is going to be a big worry, but I can’t see that game being the only direct cause of this week’s rating. The first hour was particularly low, running against Love & Hip-Hop, which for years has been an overlooked source of competition. The first hour drew 3.54 million viewers (1.617 million viewers and a 1.27 rating in the 18-49 demo), the second 3.9 million viewers (1.82 million viewers and a 1.43 rating in the 18-49 demo) and 3.85 million viewers in the third and final hour (1.79 million viewers and a 1.41 rating). This may have been an outlier, but with the ups and downs of the ratings over the past months the next few weeks of ratings as a collective will paint a more important picture than just that of this week.

 

As always thanks to @STD_85 for the 18-49 numbers.

WWE NXT – May 22nd 2014.

Full Sail University: Winter Park, FL.

Ben Carass

Eden announced that our opener was the number one contender/loser leaves town stipulation match between Big E and Bo Dallas; the stips only applied to Dallas.

 

Big E vs. Bo Dallas (If Bo wins he gets an NXT Title shot, if he loses he must leave NXT).

 

Bo did a promo beforehand and said he was, “Mr NXT” then promised the fans that he would never leave them. Bo stalled on the floor for a while then took Big E’s knee out with a chop-block. E was in control after the break, but Bo countered the Big Ending into an inverted DDT to get a near-fall. E countered the tornado bulldog and landed an overhead belly-to-belly then Bo got his knees up to block the Warrior splash and hit a double-arm DDT for more near-falls. Finish saw Bo remove the turnbuckle (the same thing he did to beat Big E for the NXT Title last year), however E outsmarted Bo and sent him into the buckle then hit his move to send Bo off to the main roster. – Big E defeated Bo Dallas via pinfall to force Bo out of NXT, at 5:55 (TV Time). Bo cried and threw a fit, as the crowd gave him the “Nah-nah, Nah-nah” treatment. He cut a goodbye promo and told the people he “strongly disliked” all of them. It turned into a wacky pantomime routine, with Bo telling the fans to leave and the people doing the same to him. – Match was sloppy in places, but I liked the finish that played off the original deal from their title match last year. It was like an old school territorial thing where the returning babyface would come back to the circuit and vanquish the very same heel that got rid of him in the first place. Thumbs up to the booking, although the crowd reaction was very underwhelming to Bo leaving town. It may very well have been a case of last taping of the night syndrome.

 

Non-Title Match: Paige (WWE Diva’s Champion) vs. Tamina Snuka

 

Paige played the scrappy underdog early on and foolishly went for a headbutt on a Polynesian; I guess the slightly offensive pro wrestling stereotype applies to women too. Tamina landed a clothesline on the apron then worked a torture-rack during the heat. Paige made her comeback, but Tamina cut her off by delicately placing her on the top rope then gently shoving her off onto the apron. Why she just didn’t dump Paige over the top is beyond me. For the finish, Paige got her knees up to counter the Superfly splash and hooked a very loose small package. – Paige defeated Tamina Snuka via pinfall, at 5:40. – Paige used to be somewhat of a badass in NXT, but now she has debuted on Raw I guess she has become an underdog here too. She was facing Tamina, so I can buy her playing that role here, however the finish was another uninspiring win out of nowhere that did her no favours at all.

 

Adam Rose vs. Camacho

 

So here we had a South African pretending to be English and a Tongan masquerading as a Mexican, you have to love this business. Rose sold a lot, but it didn’t generate much heat. He eventually did the wacky old-school babyface no-sell and made his comeback. Camacho slid outside and was counted out. – Adam Rose defeated Camacho via count-out, at 4:15. – This had no business going as long as it did just for them to do everybody’s favourite finish, the walkout. As many have feared, Rose’s entrance is over but nobody cares while he is wrestling.

 

NXT Women’s Championship Tournament, Semi Final: Natalya vs. Sasha Banks w/Charlotte

Charlotte did an inset promo and insincerely wished Sasha luck. Nattie did all of her usual opening match spots: lots of arm-ringers and flippy escapes then Sasha got the heat after hanging Nattie across the middle rope and landing a double knee stomp. The finish was kind of goofy, as Sasha hit a bulldog then rolled outside selling her ass. Charlotte yelled at her to get up then threw her back inside, where Nattie applied the sharpshooter. – Natalya defeated Sasha Banks via submission, at 4:08. – I can’t remember anyone ever using a bulldog then selling their ass to such an extent that it becomes a transitional spot in the match. Nattie will probably get a decent match out of Charlotte at Takeover, although it would be a mistake to give them 10 minutes like Paige & Emma got at Arrival.

 

Non-Title Match: Adrian Neville (NXT Champion) vs. Curt Hawkins

 

Yes, Curt Hawkins is still around. He got one clothesline to the back and a chinlock in then Neville squashed him like a bozo with the Red Arrow. – Adrian Neville defeated Curt Hawkins via pinfall, at 2:22. Tyson Kidd came out and said he was taking the title at Takeover then he hit Neville with some facts: he had been on Raw, FACT! He was a former WWE Tag champ, FACT! He had performed at WrestleMania in front of 70,000 people, FACT? Neville responded by telling Kidd that he respected him, however the only member of his family leaving Takeover with a championship would be his wife. The crowd, “oohed” at that line and the show closed with a stare-down. – Match was nothing more than a showcase for the champion, so that was fine. The promos after were ok; I guess they are going for the veteran vs. the young lion deal, which I have no problem with.

 

This was the go-home show for Takeover and other than the Neville/Kidd face-off there wasn’t a lot of stuff dedicated to building that show. For me the high point was the full circle booking of Bo Dallas being sent packing by Big E. Feel free to miss this one and comeback next week for Takeover: the card is as follows:

 

NXT Championship: Adrian Neville (c) vs. Tyson Kidd.

NXT Women’s Championship Tournament Final: Charlotte vs. Natalya.

NXT Tag Team Championships: The Ascension (c) vs. El Local & Kalisto.

Sami Zayn vs. Tyler Breeze (According to WWE.com this will be a #1 contenders match).

Adam Rose vs. Camacho.

 

There is also a pre-show at 7:30pm EST with Renee Young, Christian, Paul Heyman & Cesaro. There are two matches that stand out as potential burners, the main event and Zayn/Breeze. By all rights Neville and Kidd should tear the house down, both are incredible workers and if given 20 minutes they are almost certain to have a great match. Likewise Zayn and Breeze will no doubt be very good should it be given 18 or so. I don’t see them taking the belt off Neville and with Sami Zayn’s perennial runner-up gimmick, the plan coming out could be Neville/Breeze but that is obviously just speculation. Hopefully the Ascension won’t squash the luchadores, but after the never ending squashing jobbers story there is surely no chance of a switch. Kalisto will probably do some fancy highspots and Local will most likely take the fall. From watching the TV at least, it is clear that Charlotte is the chosen one for the Women’s title. If Nattie’s got her working boots on and doesn’t just do her typical TV match then she could carry Charlotte to a decent outing. I would go all out and have Flair and NeidHart in their daughter’s corners. Rose/Camacho will stand a chance if they put it on first in front of that hot crowd, however they will likely use it as a buffer. Whether this show can surpass Arrival is yet to be seen, but I expect an entertaining two hours of wrestling and where else are you going to find that on a Thursday night?

WWE SmackDown – May 23rd 2014.

O2 Arena: London, England.

Ben Carass.

 

Jimmy Hart was in the ring at the top of the show and he introduced Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster put over the London crowd then plugged Legend’s House and announced that the WWE Network would be available in the UK in time for next year’s WrestleMania. – This achieved nothing. The people who want the Network already have found a way to get it in the UK and most fans, as in the ones that will actually sign up, are well aware that the Network will be launched in the UK near the end of the year. The rest are simply not going to buy it.

 

No DQ: Batista vs. Dolph Ziggler

 

Cole said Ziggler went to the Authority and demanded the No DQ stip. They showed the DQ finish and Dave destroying Ziggler last week, plus the brawl with the Shield from Raw. Hot start; Dave sent Ziggler into the ring post then the guardrail. Dolph avoided a spear through the barricade then landed a Cactus clothesline into the timekeeper’s area for a double-down/reset high spot before the break. Ziggler wore Big Dave out with some chair shots then started his comeback routine and got a near-fall with the fameasser. Dave bumped over the announce table off a baseball slide and wiped out Michael Cole. Ziggler put an ass whopin’ on Dave, but was eventually cut off and sent into the steps. Dave went for a Batista-bomb on to the steps and Ziggler countered with a low-blow. A ridiculous spot followed, as Ziggler tried for a running fameasser off the apron onto the steps; Dave moved and luckily Dolph didn’t kill himself on the landing. Dave rolled Ziggler in the ring and hit the spear for the finish. – Batista defeated Dolph Ziggler via pinfall, at 9:48 (TV Time). Dave gave Dolph a Batista-bomb afterwards. – They used a bunch of tricks and cut some corners, but this was a fun brawl. The finish of Ziggler going for a stupid highspot then crashing and burning is a microcosm of his entire career. He also lost to a guy on the way out, so his future still looks bleak at this point.

 

A Bo Dallas vignette rolled and hyped his debut for TONIGHT!

 

The Funkadactyls vs. Eva Marie & Nikki Bella w/Special Referee, Summer Rae

 

Once again we had no explanation why we needed a special referee, they just showed Summer’s catfight with Layla on Raw. All the girls were fine, particularly Nikki who has got much better. Summer refused to count a couple of times then Eva came in and instantly looked lost. Cameron rolled her up and Summer made a fast three count. – The Funkadactyls defeated Eva Marie & Brie Bella via pinfall, at 2:49. Summer acted smug, tremendously and Eva acted mad, terribly. – I think at this point it is clear, a blind three-legged dachshund would make a better pro wrestler than Eva Marie. The woman is Major Gunns bad. A thumbs up to all the other gals; the heel ref gimmick usually makes no sense, but at least Summer refused to count for anyone then screwed Eva.

 

Bo Dallas vs. Sin Cara

 

Bo made his new entrance that he debuted in NXT, complete with inspiration music and epic scenery on the tron. He did a brief promo about dreams coming true and Bo-lieving. There were some planted signs in the crowd that said, “I Bo-lieve”. Bo got the heat and eventually got a few people to boo him by shouting “C’mon bay-bay” like Chris Jericho. Sin Cara made a comeback , however Bo cut him off with a big clothesline and used his tornado-bulldog for the finish. – Bo Dallas defeated Sin Cara via pinfall, at 4:10. Bo celebrated and ran around ringside. He shook Sin Cara’s hand and told him to never stop Bo-lieving because one day he could be like Bo too. – Very underwhelming debut for Bo; watching NXT every week, I didn’t really expect much else. It wasn’t terrible or anything, but clearly it is going to take some time for Bo’s act to get over and I don’t see him reaching nuclear levels like in NXT.

 

The Wyatts were in the ring for a promo. Bray talked about people living in a bubble and being prisoners of society then accused John Cena of lying to the children. They showed Bray laying Cena out on Raw then Bray said his “brothers” would take down the Usos and continued his satanic ramblings. He began to speak in “tongues”, fell to his knees and sang “the whole world in his hands.” – I may be reading too much into this, but I sincerely hope they don’t take Bray’s character to the point of believing that he is an unholy demon or even worse, like Undertaker in 1999, Satan himself. That would just make him a harmless wacko who takes goofy mythology way too seriously, whereas the charismatic master manipulator cult leader, who actually talks a lot of sense has way more depth and is much scarier.

 

Non-Title Match: Sheamus (US Champion) vs. Alberto Del Rio

 

Cesaro and Paul Heyman were on commentary; they showed Cesaro pinning Sheamus on Raw and refusing the handshake. Cesaro spoke in French and Cole began to ask him to speak English, but Heyman jumped all over him and asked, “Is this a regional promotion?” Sheamus fell for a distraction from Cesaro right away, it didn’t really make much difference as he took it to Del Rio and clotheslined him over the top. Del Rio landed his step-up enzuigiri off the apron for the heat spot; Sheamus got a hope spot sequence in then Del Rio cut him off with a backstabber. Near-falls saw an Irish curse from Sheamus and a short superkick from Del Rio. Del Rio applied the armbreaker and Sheamus got to the ropes; Cesaro dragged Sheamus outside and sent him into the steps to cause the DQ. – Sheamus defeated Alberto Del Rio via disqualification, at 6:01 (TV Time). Cesaro gave Sheamus a neutraliser on the floor and Heyman put him over on the headset. Cesaro rolled Sheamus on his back and finally shook his hand. – Match was decent enough and after the handshake deal on Raw, the DQ finish and attack from Cesaro was a nice follow up. It’s too bad that Del Rio has been relegated to being another mid-card chump though. Cesaro/Sheamus should be a fun PPV match, although I don’t know what they do for a finish. I wouldn’t beat Cesaro but I also wouldn’t give him the US title and Sheamus only recently won the thing, so I’m stumped.

 

Cole gave an update on Daniel Bryan and said he would be on Raw then threw to a recap of

 

Stephanie’s promo from Raw. Vickie Guerrero was in the ring; she put herself over as a huge party animal then introduced Adam Rose and his geeks. Rose asked the crowd if Vickie was a lemon or a rosebud and Vickie got hot then declared that she was not in fact a lemon. She ordered Rose to leave the ring, but climbed out onto the apron herself which made it obvious where this thing was going. Rose threatened to shove his lollypop in Vickie’s face (I promise that is not a euphemism) and she fell off the apron into the waiting arms of Rose’s entourage, who then proceeded to carry Vickie around ringside and all the way up the ramp. Vickie was screaming and yelling the whole time. – Two things helped this segment: the London crowd, who ate up Rose’s act and Vickie, who I have an irrational love for, so maybe it was just the crowd. Vickie was great though. I don’t expect Rose to get anywhere near the kind of reaction back in the US that he received on the UK shows, so they could very well be back to square one next week.

 

Renee was with the Usos in the back. Jey said they were a real family and therefore had the edge over the Wyatts. Cena showed up and did a Road Warrior Hawk style promo, but he was intentionally incoherent. Cena’s point was that all the Wyatt’s do is talk, while the Usos won championships. They did their goofy chest pounding song again. – The Usos have done some horrible promos on the app during Raw, however this wasn’t too bad.

 

Non-Title Match: The Usos (Tag Team Champions) w/John Cena vs. The Wyatt Family w/Bray Wyatt

 

It was fairly even earlier on; Jey took himself and Rowan over the top with a crossbody and both teams had stare-down leading into the break. Harper side-stepped Jimmy and sent him neck-first into the middle rope to start the heat. Rowan used his knuckle head-vice hold and Harper landed a superkick; Jimmy caught Harper with a corkscrew moonsault for a double-down then Jey ran wild on Rowan off the hot tag. Jimmy took out Harper with a tope then Jey wiped out everybody with a dive over the turnbuckle. Finish saw Bray shove Jey off the top rope for the DQ. – The Usos defeated The Wyatt Family via disqualification, at 7:58 (TV Time). Cena gave Rowan an AA after the match and Bray got on the apron for a face-off. Wyatt backed off and Cole hyped the Last Man Standing match for Payback. – Not much to this one, other than the big high spots from the Usos at the end. DQ finishes in main events are never great, but at least they were smart enough to not have the champions just beat their potential challengers clean.

 

They may have been on a different continent, but SmackDown was the same old meaningless show and was even thinner than usual in terms of content. That’s what happens when you run two crews I guess. We got 5 matches, only one of which was worth seeing (Dave/Ziggler), 3 had screw-job finishes and the other was the lacklustre Bo Dallas debut. To be fair, in both cases the DQ’s are actually leading somewhere. The big hooks were Hogan and the Bo Dallas debut, both of which were utterly unremarkable. We have ANOTHER stacked weekend of shows, so don’t waste your time and just wait for the important bit to be shown on Raw.

 

Bits & Pieces

 

I finally got around to watching the Harada/Ishimori GHC Junior Heavyweight title match from March 8th this week. It was an enjoyable match, better than Kondo’s defense against Ishomiro last year, but far from Yamato/Kondo in 2012. Ishimori has improved a lot over the past year or so, especially in regard to his selling and pacing – Harada is great and has been for some time. **** ¼ I still nead to get around to some of those Dragon Gate iPPVs.

 

Next Week’s Issue

 

Next week we cover NJPW’s Return to Yokohama Arena show, the go-home RAW and SmackDown for Payback in Chicago, NXT Takeover with Ben Carass, any changes in the RAW ratings patterns and more!

 

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