Cubed Circle Newsletter 201 – We’re Not Dead
Given the absence of a newsletter last week following our 200th issue the week prior new readers could be forgiven for thinking that we were on an unannounced extended hiatus. However, as long-time readers will know this newsletter, if anything, is vulnerable to technical difficulties, even ones as trivial as the loss of a laptop charger on holiday. However, after a week off not only are we back with a double issue featuring our last piece of G1 coverage, two weeks of NXT, Mid-South from 1982, and two weeks of RAW featuring Sting, but we also have the debut of a brand new column – the Pro-Wres Digest! The goal of the Digest is to encapsulate the week that was in pro-wrestling in 3-4 pages, providing a TL;DR of sorts for those unable to devote enough time to following every news story that breaks in a given week.
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
The Pro-Wres Digest for September 6th – 12th.
On Friday September 4th, John Cena was thought to have suffered an injury during a house show match with Kevin Owens in Hampton, VA. Amazingly, it wasn’t the springboard stunner that went wrong but another move John Cena should not be attempting, the code/infrared. Cena went for the move and Owens kind of just fell down on his chest; imagine an axe-guillotine driver but with Owens losing his balance too. When the report first broke, people were freaking out about Cena possibly suffering a neck injury, since they did stop the match for the referee to check on Cena and they went right to the finish after he was checked out. It was probably no fun having a 260lbs man landing on your chest like that, however the whole thing seemed to be blown way out of proportion, as Cena worked the next night against Owens in Charlottesville, VA. We have no word on whether Cena attempted the code/infrared again the next night. Cena worked RAW and looked fine during the six-man man event, however he was pulled from the weekend house show loop, presumably as a precaution. He is still advertised for the go-home RAW for Night of Champions.
Unfortunately for those who can’t get enough of early 2000’s catfights, Lana (CJ Perry) suffered a serious injury prior to the house show event in Fairfax, VA. Word is she was working out in the ring before the show when the injury occurred. WWE.com reported that X-rays showed a “Colles fracture” and Lana’s wrist was put in a splint. Lana was scheduled to appear with Dolph Ziggler in a match against Rusev at the September 6th show in Fairfax, however when she didn’t appear Rusev cut a promo about how Ziggler’s actions on RAW were the reason why Lana wasn’t there. On TV they were building towards a mixed tag with Ziggler & Lana vs. Rusev & Summer Rae, but clearly that is not going to happen now. So you know what that means: another Ziggler/Rusev singles match at Night of Champions! Lana underwent her surgery on Thursday and is expected to be out “up to four months” according to WWE doctor, Chris Amann.
Long-time Japanese Joshi star and fanboy favourite, Kanako Urai : aka KANA, was officially announced as a WWE contracted talent on Tuesday. WWE sent out a press release confirming what many assumed when Kana appeared at ringside at the NXT Takeover show in Brooklyn. She was actually signed in early August and is expected to be on NXT TV imminently. Unlike Dark Angel (Sarah Stock), who has been signed exclusively as a trainer, Kana, who will be 34 on September 26th, is going to be on-screen talent and will be the oldest female under a developmental contract. I’ll believe a legitimate Kana push when I see one, however getting her in the Performance Centre and out on the road with the likes of Dana Brooke, Eva Marie & Alexa Bliss is only going to help the next crop of NXT women, who at the moment are a million miles away from reaching the level of their predecessors. Kana spoke with Brian Fritz about the signing and said she had “accomplished all there is to accomplish” and was “looking for a new challenge.” It looks like she already knows the way to get in with the right people in the company, as she also told Fritz: “[HHH] has been my favourite WWE Superstar of all time” and “I want to make him proud.” Smart girl. It was announced on Thursday at the NXT tapings that Kana will be taking the name of legendary Crush Gal, Lioness Asuka. Kana will use the “Asuka” name in WWE, which is a pretty cool nod to history that I’m sure went over 90% of people’s heads in the company.
Sanity has finally prevailed for Kurt Angle, who announced on Mark Madden’s radio show on Tuesday night that he would not be resigning with TNA when his current deal runs out at the end of the year. Angle revealed that he would be “taking a break” from wrestling once he is done with TNA and let’s hope he is serious this time and not just playing hardball in order to get a better deal. Angle’s neck has been thrashed for damn near 20 years and he arguably should have retired at least a decade ago, but it’s well known that Angle would like to go back to WWE before he hangs up the boots. Unfortunately for Angle, Vince McMahon has been quoted countless times saying, “An Olympic gold medallist isn’t going to die in our ring” and the older Angle gets, the more unlikely a return to WWE becomes. Maybe if Kurt takes some time off and heals up as best he can then he might be able to pass a WWE physical and come in as a special attraction or for a one time deal like a retirement match. Angle is scheduled to appear at Bound for Glory on October 4th and a handful of house show events before the end of the year. He is also advertised for TNA’s annual UK tour in January from January 29-31, so it looks like he’ll be still doing TNA shows until early 2016.
TMZ broke a wacky story on Tuesday about Paige & Alicia Fox being ejected from a restaurant bar in Baltimore, MD. The deal, apparently, was some “barflies” (perhaps Barfly #2) were harassing the women and taking unsolicited pictures of the two. “An altercation of sorts” went down (fine reporting), drinks were thrown and all the culprits were ejected from the establishment. If I had to guess, this was likely an angle for Total Divas, as this season has already seen a couple of altercations happen in bars/restaurants. Feuding wrestlers going out to a bar together? Somebody get Bill Watts on the phone! This wouldn’t fly in the 80’s!
After the Zahra Schreiber debacle, you would think people in WWE would go through their social media accounts to make sure nothing embarrassing is dug up from their past. Well, sadly for Nhooph Al-Areebi (her developmental name is “Jasmin”, however she has been nowhere near NXT TV) a similar incident occurred when tweets of a racist nature where found on Twitter by someone who clearly had nothing better to do. Unlike Schreiber however, who foolishly tried to defend her Nazi memorabilia gimmick, Al-Areebi was not fired and instead the company released this utter BS statement: “WWE conducted a thorough investigation and has determined that Nhooph-Al Areebie’s Twitter account was used without her knowledge when she was 16 and 17 years old. Jasmin remains apologetic for any offensive remarks that were made.” So basically, Mark Carrano’s PA sent Al-Areebie an email asking what happened and Nhooph replied something along the lines of: “It totes wasn’t me, like 4 realz. Thnx 4 believing me, u guyz r supes amaze. Kiss Kiss. xoxox.”
Next weekend will be one of the biggest and packed of the entire year, as WWE, ROH, CMLL, NOAH and even Bellator running big shows. WWE Night of Champions is headlined by John Cena vs. Seth Rollins for the US title & Seth Rollins vs. Sting for the WWE World title on 20/9. ROH All Star Extravaganza takes place on 18/9 and features Jay Lethal vs. Kyle O’Reilly for the ROH World title. Lethal will also be pulling a double header, like Rollins, and working two matches on the same night as he also defends the TV title against Bobby Fish. CMLL’s 82nd Anniversary also takes place on 18/9 from Arena Mexico and is headlined by Atlantis vs. La Sombra in a mask vs. mask match. The CMLL Anniversary show over the last couple of years had two great matches, with Sombra beating Volador Jr for his mask in 2013 and Atlantis taking the mask of Ultimo Guerrero last year in one of the most memorable moments in the history of lucha libre. The word this week from Dr Lucha is that Atlantis could very well lose his legendary mask after 32 years, which would certainly be a huge deal. Other than maybe Rush, La Sombra, at 25 years old, is arguably the perfect choice to take the mask of Atlantis and potentially become the face of the promotion, which is in serious need of a facelift. NOAH will be running Great Voyage in Osaka on 19/9 and the top matches should be worth checking out. The Killer Elite Squad will defend the GHC Heavyweight Tag titles against War Machine, Daisuke Harada challenges Taichi for the GHC Jr title and the main event sees Minoru Suzuki defending the GHC Heavyweight title against Takashi Sugiura.
Hulk Hogan has landed himself a new gig as the Brand Ambassador for third-rate fantasy sports site, FanPicks.com. I think it says more about the website that they would associate themselves with Hogan after the debacle of the last couple of months. If you are interested in reading a bunch of corporate jargon, FanPicks released a statement calling Hogan a “global icon” and that “we all make mistakes and deserve second chances.” The only thing missing from the statement was that Hogan slammed a 10ft giant in front of 100,000 people.
There is a weird situation going on with Randy Orton. On RAW he was the victim of a beatdown from the Wyatt Family and naturally I assumed it was an angle to set Orton up as the partner of Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose at Night of Champions. However, PWInsider reported on Friday that the plan was for Orton to be written off TV for a couple of weeks. Orton is still advertised for the weekend house shows, but that doesn’t really mean much as the WWE aren’t concerned with false advertising when it comes to the house shows. Conversely, Dave Meltzer reported in the F4W Friday update that he was told Orton would be working the house shows and also be on RAW from Memphis, TN on Monday.
So back in May, Dave Meltzer, the world’s most respected pro wrestling journalist, reported that Destination America would not be renewing TNA’s contract when their deal expired at the end of September. In typical TNA fashion, the talent were kept completely in the dark about the situation and a bunch of overly-sensitive TNA hardcore fans (yes, unbelievably such a thing exists) decided Meltzer was public enemy #1 and accused him of having a vendetta against the company. Nothing has changed it seems since May, as neither TNA, nor Destination America have made any kind of announcement about a new deal. There are no more iMPACT tapings scheduled at the Impact Zone and the final episode was scheduled to air on September 30, however iMPACT is still being advertised on the Destination America website for October 7 in its usual timeslots. Despite being already taken off the air in several international markets where they received distribution through Discovery, TNA still has commitments for shows to air in other international markets, namely the UK. They could always throw together a best of or a clip show for a week, maybe two at the most, but they can’t just air old shows in the markets they still have clearance, because viewers will tune out in their droves. F4Wonline reported that negotiations are taking place for some TV tapings to take place in India in late November, but nothing is final at this point. If the company can stay alive long enough to reach the UK tour in January then you would think they would tape whatever they can in front of some of the largest houses TNA draws all year long.
NJPW G1 Climax 25 – Leaving a Legacy?
Following the conclusion of the 23rd G1 Climax in August of 2013, there was a large contingent of the NJPW fan-base, at least outside of Japan, perhaps even a majority, lauding the tournament as the greatest in pro-wrestling history – and if not in pro-wrestling history, certainly in the recent history of wrestling in Japan. In 2014, however, the company arguably topped themselves with a tournament that was, booking wise, far superior to that of 2013, with wins and losses meaning a great deal more than they had the year prior, and, once more, some of the very best matches of that year. The stacked cards night on night were most certainly an integral part of the tournament experience, with all but an insignificant minority of the nights composing the tournament producing a handful of great matches, with many more baring far more than just that. It was due to fresh memories of two of the greatest pro-wrestling tournaments of the last several decades that hopes were, as in 2014, outstandingly high for the2015 tournament. And with the tournament now over, a natural question to ask would be one of whether the it succeeded in meeting these expectations.
As one would justly expect from a tournament spanning 19 days and involving 20 participants split between A and B blocks, the answer to this question is highly subjective, and even so, probably won’t hold a Boolean value for most. First, my expectations coming into the show should be stated. As unfair as this may have been, even if it wasn’t stated explicitly, I expected the company to match what they had done in 2014, perhaps even surpass it given the right circumstances. I was prospectively positive on the switch to split block shows, each only featuring five G1 matches, as theoretically this would have provided those mending old wounds time to recover between events. I was thus expecting blow-away shows, nuclear crowd reactions, and some of the best matches of the year, but in reality experienced something quite different.
In general, only one of these propositions was satisfied during the course of the tournament – we received a collection of matches at, or at least very close to, match of the year level. Kota Ibushi and Katsuyori Shibata, in a highly anticipated match-up in-front of a fairly small crowd, tore the house down on night seven, and Ibushi performed close to as well on the opening night opposite Hiroshi Tanahashi. Ishii and Honma also delivered on the promise of their blow-away performances during the 2014 tournament, and 2013 G1 in the case of Ishii. The finals, and semi-finals, also produced matches that will undoubtedly receive a large percentage of the match of the year vote in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards, and may even win – the final match of Tanahashi versus Nakamura in particular.
In spite of this major victory in terms of match quality, unfortunately, the 19 day format did very little to decrease the injury rate, and dampened crowd reactions to a large extent. Perhaps, it should be stated more explicitly that, generally speaking, the buildings that you would expect the largest reactions from, Korakuen, Sumo Hall, the Sun Plaza, and surprisingly, even Fukuoka delivered just as they would for any other major show. But, with 19 dates to book the company was also forced to resort to running G1 shows in some of their house show venues, the Hokkaido, Takamatsu, Aichi, and Iwate-type buildings. What this ultimately resulted in was technically great match-ups that would have been titanic in Korakuen or Osaka, coming off as just a few steps above “pretty good” in execution. And, of course, the single show at the Bodymaker Coliseum was also fairly disappointing in terms of crowd response. This trend, should it continue for a few more years, may result in the resurgence of a mind-set which was fairly common amongst New Japan fans several years ago, in the pre-iPPV G1 era – the view that most G1 matches outside of the semi and grand finals act as but a teaser for future matches, and serve a purpose far removed from the spectacles of recent years.
The probability of this happening, however, is slim, as with New Japan failing to draw well on all of the 19 nights, with the final night at Sumo Hall being the only one of the three to sell-out, I would expect a return to a less adventurous model in 2016. Of course, the 19-day format, whilst intended to help further the expansion and growth of the product, also sought a secondary purpose – to, like the reforms of the 2014 edition of the tournament, curb the injuries and physical toll of the tournament on the performers, particularly those past their physical prime and already in fairly rough physical shape.
The number of G1 only matches was halved from an entire card of ten matches down to one of five supported by an assortment of multi-man matches. I was a proponent of this idea leading into the tournament, and even after viewing its first couple of nights. Theoretically, this structure would allow for the next night’s matches to be built to using trios or tags, and of course, the off-nights would be fairly light on the bodies of the wrestlers in each block. However, in practice, the multi-man matches in the first half of each show were patterned and became at times fairly indistinct from one another structure wise. What this means is that participants still had to work nine G1 matches, but also worked an additional ten matches that, whilst producing less compelling cards, didn’t do so by easing the work load to any great extent.
The largest injury story during the tournament was the elbow injury of favourite Shinsuke Nakamura, who was rendered unable to compete in his tournament match opposite Michael Elgin, as well as in two non-tournament matches. Additionally, this injury may have contributed to what was a rather inconsistent, and at times even disappointing tournament for Nakamura. Katsuyori Shibata came in injured, but thankfully fighters heal faster than normal men, and he seemed to have recuperated by the time his major matches against Ibushi and Tanahashi rolled around. As is seemingly the case every year, Hiroyoshi Tenzan in his 20th G1 appearance seemed to be more physically strained than usual, and unlike in his 2014 run, was unable to turn back the clock, even against AJ Styles, who he had a surprisingly great match with last year. The G1, as a top-tier working tournament over the last several years should probably see someone like Tenzan replaced in 2016, given his physical unreliability, and the fact that due to a need to keep the Bullet Club involved, the average work-rate of the pool already drops with Gallows, Fale, and Takahashi involved. Given that this was his 20th tournament, I see no reason to see him continue, unless, of course, he wishes to tie the tournament into a retirement run of some sort, although I expect to see Tenzan limping through undercard comedy matches for the foreseeable future, which is perfectly fine with me if he is physically capable and it earns him a decent living.
Some would say that, evident from the above, is the fact that the 2015 G1 Climax was not the tournament that two predecessors were. However, it should be understood that it was also a different kind of tournament when compared to those of the recent Gedo/Jado era. It was a marathon building to a crescendo on the final night, as opposed to the single continuous high note of the 2013/4 tournaments. Even so, the business markers show that despite good intentions, the 2015 tournament simply wasn’t as big as tournaments booked using other models. This isn’t to say that the tournament was a failure, or even that it wasn’t very good, but rather that despite the tournament’s collection of outstanding matches, as a collective, it didn’t match the two prior tournaments. Still, this is more a testament to the strength of the 2013 and 2014 tournaments than it is an indictment of the 2015 one. With as much hyperbole as there is on the internet it is fairly easy at times to forget how much weight a statement such as “greatest tournament in the history of pro-wrestling” carries. If the tournament bearing this title was topped every year without end, then perhaps the initial decision to create such a label would be misguided – and perhaps it is regardless. However, the prevailing point here should be that creatively speaking, the G1 Climax of 2015 produced some resounding successes, but those successes were padded with so much mundane filler than the potency of the total package was diluted.
In short, the 2015 edition of the G1 Climax was a very good tournament, just not the third in a line of legendary ones for which was hoped.
G1 Climax Awards 2015:
Tournament MVP: Kota Ibushi – Tanahashi may have had a slightly larger collection of stand-out matches during the 25th G1 than Kota Ibushi, but no one wrestler during the 2015 G1 was able to adapt to and enhance the working styles of others more than Ibushi. Even more so than in his 2013 run, the Kota Ibushi G1 match catalogue should stand as a testament to the transformation Ibushi has made over the past several years – from a spotty/flippy junior who could be carried to a great match, to an all around outstanding worker, who can now do for others what was done for him in much of his pre-2013 career.
Runners Up: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii
Match of the Tournament: Kota Ibushi versus Katsuyori Shibata
Runner Up: Hiroshi Tanahashi versus Shinsuke Nakamura
Best Show: August 12th Korakuen Hall Night 1 – One of the major pratfalls of this year’s tournament was the lack of great shows, but the August 12th Korakuen show was fantastic in the second half, as was the final night at Sumo Hall from top to bottom. Few entire nights of the G1 will be remembered on my part, but August 12th from Korakuen and August 16th from Sumo Hall will definitely stick for quite some time.
Fighting Spirit Award: Michael Elgin – There were some groans at the announcement of Michael Elgin for the 2015 G1, but Elgin silenced the majority of critics through his ability to get over with the Japanese audience using his physical charisma, and memorable matches against the likes of Tomohiro Ishii, Tomoaki Honma, and Kazuchika Okada. Elgin is someone that we need to see back in New Japan.
Runners Up: Tomoaki Honma, Tomohiro Ishii
Lazy Heel Scum Bag Award: Tetsuya Naito – The new Tetsuya Naito is awesome and must continue forever. That is all.