Cubed Circle Newsletter 202 – Punk in the news, and perhaps in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame too
We have a big issue for you this week, as we not only look at the role of historical influence in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame by investigating arguments for both the Sharpe Brothers and CM Punk (with some Volk Han discussion along the way), but Ben Carass also returns with coverage of all the week’s news in the Pro-Wres Digest, as well as reviews of RAW, NXT, and Mid-South from 1982 featuring the debut of Jim Duggan opposite Dick Murdoch!
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
PDF – Pro-Wres Digest, Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame Talk, NXT, RAW, and Mid-South Reviews + More!
Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame 2015 – The Role of Historical Influence
Emphasised on Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballots are the notions of value to the industry, trend-setting, and positive historical significance. All of these criteria may lie within the broad domain of “influence”, however, much like the majority of the non-drawing related Hall of Fame criteria, a great deal is left to the voter’s interpretation. How did historical context affect the success of a performer’s run? Did the legacy the candidate leave result in further creative, artistic, and monetary victories in the business? Did the candidate define a role, and if so, would the niche have come about at all or been drastically different without them? These are all natural questions that arise from the fairly straightforward set of guidelines brought forth by the balloting guidelines, and are questions that we will be addressing below for specific candidates, the Sharpe Brothers and CM Punk.
Of all the Japanese candidates, and perhaps most of the candidates across all regions, very few, if any, were more instrumental in defining a specific niche in the industry than Mike & Ben Sharpe. There were interviewers before Mean Gene, announcers preceding Howard Finkel, and shoot wrestlers before Volk Han, but there simply weren’t gaijin wrestlers prior to the appearance of Mike and Ben Sharpe in Japan. On a superficial level, this should all but guarantee their induction, as gaijin formed the basis for Japanese professional wrestling for the better part of three decades following the first appearance of the Sharpes in the country on February 19th 1954. However, when considering the social climate of Japan following World War II, and the context in which the Sharpes appeared, we are all but forced to ask further questions.
Could the gaijin role have been filled by any other team during the early days of the JWP? This is perhaps the first question that should be asked, as the Sharpe Brothers may have very well simply filled the basic criteria for Rikidozan at the time, that is, tall Americans (the Sharpes were actually Canadian, but then again, Rikidozan was Korean) who could serve as decent working competition, given the still developing style of the time, against Rikidozan and Masahiko Kimura, amongst others. Japan was highly nationalistic during the post-war period, and clung to the story of one of their own battling the American invaders. This was a story reflected in many forms of Japanese media at the time. But, if questions of this sort are to be asked, then what of almost any major wrestling draw in history? I cannot think of a major star in the history of the business not succeeding, at least to some extent, due to the social climate of the time. Bruno Sammartino, even with his physical features and natural charisma benefited from the support of minority groups in New York. Rikidozan was born from the aforementioned want from the culture for a Japanese hero, the same culture that spawned the likes of comic book icon, Astroboy. Inoki and Baba followed from what was built from Rikidozan, and Rock and Austin were born from a collection of circumstance and the entertainment edge of the 1990s.
To say that the candidacy of any of these performers should be questioned, simply due to their births from circumstance, is not only laughable, but also shows that almost any major star in pro-wrestling must, at least to some extent, resonate with the culture of the time. Whilst the Sharpes are clearly not the icons that Inoki, Baba, Rikidozan, Hogan, Rock, or Austin were, they are still two of the most important names in the history of Japanese professional wrestling. It is doubtful that puroresu would have become nearly as big or successful than it did without the Sharpes, who were the necessary opposition for Rikidozan, Kimura, and the nation of Japan in a post-war climate.
This argument is only further strengthened by the influence the Sharpes had on the working style in Japan, as they brought the initial American influence to early puroresu, as did Rikidozan to some extent following his excursions to the United States. And, of course, if the Sharpes hadn’t played the role they did, at the time that they did, it is doubtful that gaijin acts such as the Destroyer, Lou Thesz, Freddie Blassie, or even later stars such as Stan Hansen would have been as effective, had they appeared at all The Sharpes in matches opposite Rikidozan and Kimura, aided additionally in the formation of a TV culture in Japan, as large crowds gathered around public televisions, or the initial wave of household TVs to watch the matches.
In my eyes it is quite apparent that of any of the current Hall of Fame candidates, specifically in the Modern US and Japan categories, which I follow, there is no set of candidates more instrumental in their niche than Mike and Ben Sharpe – after all, they founded their role, a rare feat.
For others in the Japanese category, lack of long term influence may act as a detraction. An example of this is Volk Han, who despite debuting a great worker, and perhaps being the greatest worker in the history of shoot-style wrestling, the widespread death of the style, leads to a position that is not uncommon, that the shoot-style of Volk Han and Tamura is but a relic of the late 80s and 90s – although, Tamura was admittedly more varied than Volk Han, working more matches. This is most certainly an interesting argument for why Volk Han should not be inducted into the Hall of Fame, in addition to the relatively small number of career matches that he worked, as well at the height of his powers only being the second biggest draw in a medium sized promotion.
As much as Volk Han and Tamura are interesting cases, a candidate far more relevant to a discussion of influence, and the role that it plays in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame voting criteria, comes from the Modern North American category. This candidate is CM Punk, who, unlike Volk Han, whilst still being an outstanding overall performer – generating memorable programmes with the likes of Rey Mysterio, Jeff Hardy, The Rock, John Cena, and Raven, and perhaps being the best promo of his generation – an argument for the inclusion of CM Punk in the Hall of Fame that is often times overlooked is his unique role of creating the foundations for independent talent in the WWE.
When CM Punk debuted in 2006 for WWE’s rebooted ECW brand there existed a very clear ceiling for independent talent who were lucky enough to be offered a contract. In 2006, the roster was far different than it is today, with very few independent talents, and with the few that were positioned far from the main event scene. But, Punk’s career is a story of opportunity, either capitalising on circumstance, or fighting to alter his environment in order to meet his seemingly immovable goals. Punk won his first WWE Championship/World Heavyweight Title in 2008, but was positioned at nearly every opportunity to fail. He had the star qualities, but failed to escape a seemingly perpetual cycle of momentum growth and destruction. Then in 2011 he delivered his famous Las Vegas promo in July that not only served as one of the more iconic pieces of mic work of his career, but also catapulted him into a babyface position second from the top for the rest of his WWE tenure.
What followed was numerous cooling and warming periods, with the company’s then infatuation with Alberto Del Rio attempting to break into the Mexican market, infringing on Punk’s ability to garner a long-term championship reign – this is, of course ignoring his rushed return following his superstar-making performance with John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 in Chicago. Regardless, even when faced with seemingly doomed programmes with the likes of Triple H and Kevin Nash, Punk pulled through, which resulted in his highly touted year-plus-long championship reign, a run all but unfathomable but a couple of years prior.
Punk departed in memorable fashion, a story upon which Punk elaborated greatly in an interview with Colt Cabana in late 2014, but he surprisingly left a legacy of sorts with the company, as he opened the minds of some, as far as to what extent independent talent may be pushed. This is of course an outsider’s perspective, however, since the rise of Punk, the likes of Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins have taken off as stars, with the later specifically being pushed by the company, who didn’t need their hand forced as was the case with Daniel Bryan. The timing, however, of the WWE’s version of the Summer of Punk is unfortunate for this argument, as it coincides with Paul Levesque’s rise to prominence as Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events & Creative. This makes it fairly difficult to distinguish where Punk’s influence ends and where Hunter’s begins. And this is one of the stronger arguments that could be made against Punk as an influence on the future success of former-indie talent.
Creatively and artistically speaking, CM Punk had a Hall of Fame worthy career, but of course this statement is highly subjective. The argument of drawing power isn’t as well defined as it once was, with the WWE brand drawing far more than any individual star for the most part. Drawing metrics will become even more difficult to analyse in future years with the distinct lack of pay-per-view buy-rates as the WWE Network continues to evolve. Even so, Punk’s main drawing run would have taken place from 2011-2013, which, even if he had been a definitively strong draw, wouldn’t have been a long enough period to secure him enough votes for induction. However, as more indie workers become WWE stars in the same vein as Seth Rollins, the argument for Punk will only grow stronger, given that he became, through tenacity and natural ability, a shining counter example to the negative stereotypes that WWE hold and held against independent talent.
In typical Jeff Jarrett announcement fashion, Global Force Wrestling issued a statement on Monday that they have signed an international TV distribution deal with London based, Boulder Creek International. Now, this is NOT a television deal for GFW “Amped” to air on any specific channel, it just means that BCI will be shopping around the shows that GFW taped in Las Vegas earlier in the year to potential buyers. On their own website, BCI lists a bunch of its affiliates: BBC, CNBC, CNN, FOX, Sky Sports, Discovery, BT Sports and ESPN are the big hitters that are namedropped, however the chance of any of those establishments putting Global Force Wrestling on any of their outlets is riotously absurd.
Last week we noted the situation with TNA being cancelled by Destination America’s parent company, Discovery, had not changed. After months of speculation, we finally got an update on Wednesday when Sports Illustrated ran an interview with Dixie Carter on their website which revealed that TNA would be staying on Destination America at least until the end of 2015. In typical blissfully ignorant fashion, Dixie made herself look like a complete moron by making a comment that even the most loyal of TNA fanboys couldn’t take seriously in a million years: “You can’t go back and recreate things. I’ve had the biggest names work for us, and it’s just shown me that there’s no magic bullet. So we’re learning from our mistakes from the past and how can we be different and move forward.” Anyone who has followed iMPACT even casually will be able to tell you that all TNA has done for the last 13 years is copy the 1999-2001 WCW business model and continuously make the same mistakes over and over again, bordering on the point of parody. Regarding the TV situation, it appears like Discovery have cut TNA a similar break to Spike last year and Destination America will continue to air iMPACT until the end of the year in order to give TNA a chance to find a new station. I don’t get why all these TV companies are being so nice to TNA, after all, I thought the show business industry was a cut-throat, walk over your own mother’s grave type of environment. Maybe Bob Carter has some influence in that department, or perhaps those callous, soulless suits in their ivory tower had their icy hearts melted by that demurely charming southern bell, Ms Carter. I seriously doubt either is actually the case. Dixie also said TNA’s biggest challenge was “building a brand in the US”, something they will have a tough time achieving due to the tainted name of the company, not only amongst the fans but within the business world as well. If you take one thing away from the interview, besides that Dixie is utterly clueless, it’s her comment: “We’re contracted to Destination America through the end of the year, and we are in discussions going on for 2016.” Once again TNA have been thrown a lifeline and have three extra months to find a new TV partner, however there are no more iMPACT tapings scheduled so the shows will likely be a bunch of canned matches and pre-tapes from whomever they can get hold of; so the shows will be more or less exactly the same. On top of TNA’s domestic problems, they were also dropped by German and Austrian TV channel, DMAX this week. And so the never-ending farcical saga of the cockroach of professional wrestling companies, TNA, scurries along for now.
For anyone wondering what is going on with the Dr. Chris Amann, CM Punk, Colt Cabana slander and libel lawsuit, Dave Meltzer had an update in this week’s Observer. Basically, the case is still in discovery and each side is accusing the other of lying. Amann, who is suing Brooks and Colton for $1 million, refutes ever prescribing antibiotics for a MRSA staph infection, broken ribs or a concussion; all of which Punk claimed on Cabana’s podcast. Besides negligence and misconduct, Punk is claiming his patient confidentiality was broken due to WWE releasing results of his medical records the day after Amann filed the suit. As noted by Meltzer, there is precedent in law that team doctors in sports practice under different regulations than personal positions and general medical practitioners. If a doctor is employed by a sports team then that doctor is required under contract to disclose the athletes’ medical information to management. It makes sense if you think about it; think about your favourite sports team. They will assuredly have a medical team administering weekly physicals to the athletes and passing along the results to the manager; it’s basic sports science. Releasing Punk’s medical records in a public document may be another matter entirely, however that could be negated by the fact that Brooks openly discussed the same parts of his medical history in a public forum, on a podcast. Cabana is claiming he was simply doing his job as a host and was debating, even refuting at times, Punk’s version of events. In my view, they don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to Cabana and his involvement in all this is just a way to further unsettle Punk. That’s basically the gist of the deal right now; Punk is sticking by what he said on the podcast and Amann is accusing him of telling a bunch of lies. The burden of proof is on Amann’s side, meaning that his legal team has to prove that Brooks was indeed lying about all the negligible claims he made about Amann on the show.
TNA announced on Monday that Earl Hebner would be inducted in to the TNA Hall of Fame in Salem, VA on October 3rd at a house show the night before Bound for Glory. It’s the TNA Hall of Fame, so who really cares? It was also announced that Senior Producer, Billy Corgan will induct Hebner, you know, because they go way back to Lollapalooza ’92.
By the time you are reading this one of the most packed weekends of the year will be underway. As noted last week, WWE, ROH, NOAH, CMLL and Bellator are all running big events. In addition to Night of Champions on Sunday, WWE are promoting an NXT tour in Texas this weekend. On Friday NXT is running in Austin, while ROH are presenting their All Star Extravaganza PPV from San Antonio. The next night, Saturday 19th, NXT will be in San Antonio on the same night that ROH will be running its TV tapings in the same city. HHH can deny all he wants that WWE are not aggressively going after ROH, however it’s clear to anyone with a brain that WWE are trying to prove a point, just like they did when they brought in Jushin Liger to run against the ROH/New Japan show in New York. The NXT house show in Austin has Bayley vs. Dana Brooke and Samoa Joe vs. Tyler Breeze and the following night in San Antonio features Finn Balor vs. Tyler Breeze and The Vaudevillains vs. Blake & Murphy in the Dusty Rhodes Classic, which will be shown on TV in at least highlight form.
The ROH PPV looks really strong, as Jay Lethal will be defending the TV title against Bobby Fish and defending the World title against Kyle O’Reilly, AJ Styles vs. Roderick Strong vs. Adam Cole vs. Michael Elgin, ACH vs. Matt Sydal, plus The Addiction vs. The Young Bucks vs. The Kingdom, should all be excellent matches. On top of that there’s a No DQ match between Cedric Alexander & Moose, the Briscoes facing a mystery team and the greatest stipulation match of all-time: Dalton Castle vs. Silas Young, if Silas wins he gets Dalton’s boys and if Dalton wins, Silas must become one of the boys! Tremendous!
NOAH’s Great Voyage in Osaka should also be a solid show, with the Killer Elite Squad defending the GHC Tag titles against War Machine; their matches in ROH have been good and there is no reason why they shouldn’t deliver again. Taichi vs. Daisuke Harada won’t be a classic match, but it is probably time for Harada to take the title from Taichi. The same could be said for the main event which sees Minoru Suzuki defending the GHC title, officially, for the 5th time against Takashi Sugiura (Suzuki defended the title against Mio Shirai at a Pro Wrestling Wave show on August 9th but NOAH do not recognize it as an official title defence). The Suzuki-Gun invasion angle was awesome when it started, but it soon lost some of its allure when the likes of Taichi and Desperado were thrust into the Junior division and put in longer matches. At least we have got to see Minoru Suzuki working 30 minute main events again, which is always a treat. His second match with Marufuji was the strongest of the two and his last defence against Yoshihiro Takayama was a brutally thrilling encounter. I don’t know how long Jado plans to run with the Suzuki-Gun invasion, but it certainly feels like time for the momentum to swing back in favour of the NOAH guys, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Sugiura wins the title. Either way, I expect the match with Sugiura to be Suzuki’s best since his return to NOAH in January.
The grand old lady of pro wrestling, CMLL, will be celebrating her 82nd anniversary on Friday 18th at Arena Mexico and, if last year was anything to go on, the main event should result in one of the biggest angles/news stories of the entire year. Unlike the 2014 main event, when Atlantis unmasked Ultimo Guerrero in one of the most memorable moments I have ever seen, this year’s main event of Atlantis vs. La Sombra will not be the culmination of a feud that ran for years. With only a month or so of build, including both men unmasking, La Sombra getting a couple of pins with a low-blow and a wacky deal where La Sombra unmasked himself in order to get Atlantis disqualified, the company is still expecting to break the $1 million mark at the gate and even set a new record. Atlantis is 52 and surely close to retiring, while Sombra is 25 and one of the top rudos in the promotion along with Rush. Logically there is only one winner, Sombra. However the way the feud has been booked, everything looks like it is set up for Atlantis to get his revenge. Conversely, Dave Meltzer noted in the Observer that Atlantis is booked on the September 20th Arena Mexico show defending the Mexican National Light Heavyweight title against Mephisto. This is significant because an unmasked star going around the towns after just losing his mask is normally a big money draw. La Sombra isn’t booked on any upcoming CMLL shows, so make of that what you will.
On Friday, PWInsider reported that the WWE/WWN relationship which has been rumoured for months is still a possibility. After wading through countless ads and pushing my malware blocker to the limit, I made it to an update in which Mike Johnson claimed that the two companies are still in talks with each other. Gabe Sapolski was at the NXT Takeover show in Brooklyn, so there could be something to this, however I don’t really see it being a big deal either way. Can you see NXT guys going to work EVOLVE shows? Of course not, and the EVOLVE guys going the other way will most likely end up as either jobbers, or independent contractors brought in for a short term deal, like Gargano & Ciampa. Johnson also noted that the producers of Lucha Underground are trying to put finances together to get a second season up and running. El Ray Network has ponied up some of the cash and the producers are trying to make up the difference by looking for additional outlets like Netflix and international distribution. Essentially, they could start shooting a second season tomorrow, however the producers want to ensure the grandiose production values of the first season are maintained and the could not achieve that on the money they received from El Ray alone. Let’s hope they can find some investors and/or land some international distribution, because Lucha Underground was hands down the TV show of the year if you exclude New Japan on AXS and we all need this show back in our lives.