Cubed Circle Newsletter 205 – NJPW Destruction, Rev Pro, WWE MSG & More!
We have a larger than average newsletter for you this week covering not only NJPW Destruction from Kobe and Okayama, and more specifically the bad booking that came with it, but also in-depth coverage from the latest set of Rev Pro/NJPW shows from Ben who was at the shows live, WWE from MSG, John Cena’s hiatus, TNA wackiness, RAW, NXT Takeover Respect, and a lot more!
The Pro-Wres Digest for October 2nd – October 10th 2015.
Some major news broke last Friday (Oct 2nd) when it was revealed that the WWE’s top star for the last decade, John Cena, would be taking the rest of the year off. Nobody seems to know the real reason why Cena wants the time off, although it is certainly not injury related. F4WOnline.com reported that it was down to “personal reasons”, while PWTorch.com claimed that Cena needed to “recharge and try to be the catalyst for a RAW TV turnaround next year leading into WrestleMania.” It certainly looks like Cena is pulling the old Hulk Hogan trick of disappearing for a couple of months during a ratings slump, only to return during the time of year when business picks up regardless. But hey, after 10 years of being the only real, true, megastar the company has created and carrying the promotion on his back, Cena deserves to pick and choose his shots at this point in his career. Cena isn’t advertised for anything after the Hell in a Cell PPV on October 25th and will not be on the European tour either. Nikki Bella will be working the European tour, so Cena’s time off apparently has nothing to do with her. Dave Meltzer noted in the Observer that Cena asked for this time off back in August, so WWE have known for some time that they were going to be without their biggest star, but they have apparently not taken it seriously because nobody on the roster is in a strong enough position to step in to that top babyface role while Cena is out. They have a perfect opportunity to turn a brand new face into a star, as, conceivably, someone could come up from NXT and beat Cena for the US title during one of his open challenges. Sadly, such a scenario seems unlikely, because, after all, this is the WWE and they will probably just try to reignite a guy they have already turned into a mid-carder like Dean Ambrose. Cena is currently still being advertised for shows in December, including the annual big house show at Madison Square Garden on December 26th, although, obviously, that could be changed.
For many people, the lack of English language commentary is an insurmountable obstacle when it comes to Japanese pro wrestling. Personally, I do not understand this mentality but nevertheless there are plenty of people who have been clamouring for New Japan Pro Wrestling to implement an English commentary team for their big shows. As Wrestle Kingdom 9 proved with Jim Ross as the lead announcer, there are about 12,000 people who would be willing to purchase a PPV or sign up to NJPW World if the company provides them with an English language option. So when New Japan announced it would in fact be presenting King of Pro Wrestling on October 12th with an English commentary team, I’m sure a lot of fans were excited about the prospect…until they read the names that New Japan picked to call the show: Kevin Kelly and Matt Striker. I know Jim Ross would come at a higher price, but he would also get a much larger amount of press and intrigue from his own personal fans compared to Kelly and Striker. According to Dave Meltzer, New Japan didn’t even contact Ross about the job, nor did they inquire about the best announce team on TV, Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett, who already know the product and do a fantastic job on the New Japan TV show on AXS. I actually watched Wrestle Kingdom 9 live with the Japanese commentary and went back a second time to see how Jim Ross did at calling the product. But that was Jim Ross. I can almost guarantee that I will not be doing the same for King of Pro Wrestling, unless reports emerge of Kelly and Striker being so horrendous that it becomes intriguing enough for me to check it out. Otherwise, I’ll just stick to the traditional Japanese commentary, because, as Meltzer so succinctly put it on the 10/3 Observer Radio podcast, “It’s f**king Striker!”
Duke Roofus revealed on Monday that CM Punk injured his shoulder a couple of weeks ago and is due for a diagnosis on October 14th. “He got caught in a scramble, so right now he’s taking a little time off,” Roofus told ESPN.com. “He was doing great before that. His progress has been good. He’s got a great attitude and he’s a hard worker.” Roofus estimated that Punk would be out for six to ten months and would not be rushed back into training until he is fully healed. UFC 200 is on July 9th 2016 and Roofus intimated that it would make the most sense for Punk to debut on that show. “I gave up managing fighters, but I understand the promotion business,” Roufus said. “I think it’s smart business. I was at UFC 100 [in 2009] when Brock Lesnar was showcased, and I saw the impact of that.”
In typical TNA fashion, Dixie Carter’s “big” announcement on Monday was basically that they are going to India to make a further announcement. They will be taping some TV over there, but I guess Sony SIX, TNA’s Indian television partner, wanted them to wait until they were in the country before dropping such a monumental bombshell. Mahabili Shera, Ethan Carter III, Rebel and Executive Vice President of TV/Talent Relations, John Gaburick will be appearing in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Bangalore from 10/19 to 10/22. With one tour announced to be announced, on Friday TNA cancelled all its house show dates in Louisiana and Mississippi from 10/29 through to 11/1. Maybe they should have brought back Erik Watts to try and pop the town like they did with the Von Erich kids when Bound for Glory was in Texas. As of this week, TNA claims it will be taping shows for TV when they tour the UK in January, but of course that could all change by the time you are reading this.
But wait, there’s yet more TNA stupidity afoot. Matt Hardy won the TNA World title at Bound for Glory on 4/10 beating Drew Galloway & EC3 in a three-way with Jeff Hardy as the referee and two days later on 6/10, he vacated the title via a YouTube video. The story is that EC3 filled an injunction to prohibit Hardy from appearing on TV with the belt because he thinks Aunt Dixie was in cahoots with the Hardys. Because they have not TV taped in months, they will be airing a tournament they have had in the can since June and will edit it in such a way that it appears like the participants are competing in a World Title tourney. You just can’t make this stuff up.
Triple H did his usual pre-NXT Takeover Conference Call on Tuesday, here are a few of the highlights: He claimed he was late because he had to call Bruno Sammartino and wish him a happy 80th birthday. Said the ‘Respect’ name has a lot to do with Dusty Rhodes and put over the Dusty Rhodes Classic. When asked about NXT’s fan base he said NXT is “more edgier, underground, niche.” “We’re feeding that niche, but that niche is huge […] I know who my fan base is with NXT, and that’s who I’m trying to serve.” Someone asked about Jushin Liger and whether we’d see more guys like that coming in and HHH said he’s open to anything but there are “limitations due to business reasons.” He put over Bayley & Sasha and said their Brooklyn match was one of the best he’s ever seen. Of course, he used the ridiculous Ronda Rousey/US women’s soccer team analogy. He mentioned the Tweets with Finn Balor outside the TNA office and said it wasn’t a big deal and thought they were funny. Trips was asked if it was hard to sell the idea of a women’s Iron Man match to Vince, but said he [Vince] doesn’t make that final decision in NXT and claimed “Vince is all about the fans,” it just takes him a while to “come around.” Talked about how Vince being hesitant to attend NXT Brooklyn because he would be just sat around doing nothing. HHH noted that Vince sat at gorilla and just enjoyed the show. The final question was about Gabe Sapolsky and the relationship with Evolve/WWN. HHH said the entire indie scene was a feeder system, but he really likes what Evolve do and wants to support their product. He added that if they didn’t have room at the Performance Centre for certain guys they would be sent to Gabe for extra bookings and said the indie undercurrents are healthy for the business.
The latest situation with Jimmy Snuka is that they are skipping a preliminary hearing and going straight to trial. The defence and prosecution reached a deal which includes the defence getting all of the grand jury transcripts. Snuka’s lawyer blasted the potential preliminary hearing as a “sham” because the prosecution intended to have one investigator recount what was heard in front of the grand jury, instead of allowing the complete transcripts to be submitted as evidence. Snuka is due to start chemotherapy very soon to treat his stomach cancer, so it is in the best interest of everybody involved to get this thing moving along as quickly as possible.
Former Pride boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s new promotion, which was named as Rizin Fighting Federation at a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday, will be running two shows at the end of the year on December 29 and 31 at the Saitama Super Arena. Fedor Emelianenko will be making his return on the New Year’s Eve show and is rumoured to be fighting no name Indian kickboxer, Jaideep Singh. Perhaps more crazy than Fedor returning to MMA after three years of retirement is that fact that Kazushi Sakuraba will be headlining the 12/29 show against 32 year-old, current OneFC Lightweight Champion, Shinya Aoki in a catchweight bout. Sakuraba, 46, will certainly help Sakakibara’s new promotion get some publicity but I certainly am not looking forward to seeing the broken down Sakuraba fighting a man 14 years his junior. Aoki is 38-6-1NC and has won his last eight fights in OneFC and DREAM respectively.
James Storm was spotted entering Full Sail University before the NXT Takeover Special on Wednesday. A picture of Storm walking into the building with Billy Gunn surfaced online before the event started and Twitter blew up with speculation of Storm making a potential surprise appearance. In the end Strom never appeared on the show, which we have full coverage of in this issue. Storm did appear on the NXT TV tapings on 10/8, which we’ve got coverage of at the end of the Digest.
The original Mistico, Luis Urive, whom has been working in AAA as Myzteziz ever since he left the WWE last year, returned to Arena Mexico on Friday night during a Lucha Libre Elite show. He showed up to cut a promo and was announced for a match with Lucha Libre Elite on 10/25 at Arena Mexico, the building he packed week after week during his hot run for CMLL in 06/07. Myzteziz is in the middle of a feud with Rey Mysterio Jr in AAA and Lucha Libre Elite is only a small-time independent compared to AAA or CMLL, so this looks like some kind of political move on Urive’s part maybe to show AAA that he is worth more than they are paying him. On the other hand, AAA could have okayed the whole thing and this isn’t really a story at all. We’ll have to wait and see.
Devin Taylor and Cal Bishop were cut from WWE developmental on 9/10. Taylor was the regular backstage interviewer on the NXT TV show, however they have tons of good looking women to fill her spot so I’m sure she won’t be missed too much. Bishop had never made it on to TV and barely even worked any house shows.
On an unrelated note, Friday October 9th would have been Eddie Guerrero’s 48th birthday.
Full Sail University: Winter Park, FL.
Taped for Oct 14th – Alexa Bliss interrupted Bayley’s celebration promo and snatched the Women’s title off her. Vaudevillains over Sawyer Fulton & Angelo Dawkins; apparently they had to reshoot the finish due to a botch. Nia Jax squashed Evie from Shine. Apollo Crews won a Battle Royal to become the #1 contender for the NXT title.
Taped for Oct 21st – Asuka over Billie Kaye. Enzo & Cass beat Dash & Dawson; post-match Dash & Dawson beat up Enzo & Cass. “The Cowboy” James Storm over Martin Stone. Alexa Biss downed Peyton Royce. Baron Corbin over Rhyno in a reportedly poor match.
Taped for October 28th – Emma beat Shazza McKenzie from Shimmer. Chad Gable & Jason Jordan over Tomasso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano. Nia Jax squashed Kay Lee Ray from Shine. Dash & Dawson jumped Enzo & Cass while they were making their entrance for a match. Samoa Joe downed Tyler Breeze. Finn Balor over Tye Dillinger.
Questionable Booking Decisions Heading Out of NJPW ‘Destruction’
Two weeks ago New Japan Pro-Wrestling ran their now annual pair of ‘Destruction’ shows, the first from Okayama, and the second from Kobe. Largely, the events delivered when compared to reasonable expectations heading in – the first show was very clearly a B or even C level show, and the second in Kobe was, at the very best, mid-tier B-level. No match of the years candidates took place, nor was the undercard on either show of much note. However, what will be remembered, at least for the next few months heading out of the shows, are the two major contentious title changes that took place, one in Okayama and the other in Kobe – KUSHIDA dropping the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title to Kenny Omega, and Hirooki Goto losing the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to Shinsuke Nakamura, respectively.
KUSHIDA relinquished a championship that he had only won 80 days prior at the ‘Dominion’ show in June to the man that he won it from, Kenny Omega, a change that felt like a major positive for New Japan, and the Junior division in particular less than three months ago. Since Devitt’s near year long reign almost three years ago, the company has yet to keep the championship on any single performer in their still fairly shallow junior division for more than a few months. And this has only accentuated the faults in a division that has been growing more insignificant with each year, it would seem. Primarily, this is why KUSHIDA needed a long reign with the belt, not because he would have fallen to the undercard if he had lost it (apart from championship matches the junior division is mostly seated in the undercard to begin with), but rather that with the championship as a constant hot-potato, there exists no stable ground upon which to build a strong division.
The hype behind KUSHIDA wasn’t something that the internet fabricated, or that the hardcore New Japan fanbase in Japan pushed for with resistance from the company. No, it was New Japan who aired videos of an eight or so year old KUSHIDA practising dives onto a practice dummy on home video, and it was New Japan who helped construct the emotional build and pay off to his victory at ‘Dominion’. The natural question that follows is one of New Japan’s motivation for switching the title after only one successful defence on the part of KUSHIDA. In all likelihood, the switch was made in order to set up a Time Splitters IWGP Jr. Tag Title run with Shelley back in action after injury. However, as far and away the biggest junior star in the company, with the exception of Kota Ibushi who is now working as a heavyweight in any case, there is no reason that KUSHIDA couldn’t have been a double champion, especially with the majority of the New Japan events now being split over two days. And even if, for whatever reason, it was required that KUSHIDA only hold one belt at a time, why then put the title on KUSHIDA, and not just keep Omega as champion?
Having only successfully defended the Junior title once across two reigns, KUSHIDA was undoubtedly hurt by this loss, and after teetering on the precipice of what could have been the start of a career-defining run, KUSHIDA has been unduly shoved back, and unfortunately it may take him, and the Junior division, quite some time to regain the momentum it seemed to have gathered over the last few months.
Apart from the match’s outcome, the manner in which the title change took place was also poor, with a flat referee distraction finish, after repeated instances of over the top and not in the least bit believable interference from the Bullet Club that added nothing to the match, and if anything heavily detracted from it.
The main event of the Kobe show, Hirooki Goto versus Shinsuke Nakamura was the best of the two matches by a wide margin, which was to be expected, especially when considering the amount of interference the KUSHIDA match had. However, whilst perhaps not as damaging, the match’s results told a similar story for the championships and men involved.
Hirooki Goto, through little fault of his own, came into New Japan at the wrong time, a second generation star, debuting roughly two and a half years after Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shibata, a year after Nakamura, and becoming a main roster presence long before Okada and Naito. Pinned between the last two major generations of New Japan stars, and going through a process of reinvention in 2010/2011, Goto has been a performer who, for the longest time, should have been a star on the level of a Shinsuke Nakamura or Kazuchika Okada, but never quite reached it due to circumstance.
He helped build the IWGP Intercontinental championship during his first reign, but the man most responsible for its rise in stature was Shinsuke Nakamura. However, after dropping the strap to Goto in May it was thought that Goto would have had a strong title reign in 2015, and perhaps even 2016 against some of the top stars that Nakamura battled during his reigns as champion. But, unfortunately for Goto, he only ended up having a single title defence during his entire reign as champion from May to September. He did, however, end up besting IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada during this year’s G1, but still lost to Nakamura, which of course set up the ‘Destruction’ match in Kobe.
The decision to switch the Intercontinental Championship isn’t questionable to the same extent as the Jr. title change in Okayama, but still leaves a number of questions that should have been asked when booking the finish unanswered. The primary question should have been whether this change was going to hamper Goto’s growth as a performer, growth that has been largely stifled by the fact that he more often than not, loses to the company’s upper echelon slotting him in an upper-midcard role. Secondly, how would the title and the person winning the title benefit from the change? As much as prestige has soaked into the title through some kind of “overness” osmosis, in reality Nakamura is a big enough star, and the Intercontinental picture and Goto were open to enough fresh matches, that neither the championship nor Nakamura will heavily benefit from this change, at least in the short term. This is especially true when Nakamura drops the title only to win it back without the person who he had dropped the title to getting many opportunities to assert themselves as champion through title defences.
Neither change is by any means a catastrophic booking disaster, or anything quite close. However, in the case of KUSHIDA in particular, this change may be seen as a strange quirk in what will hopefully become a strong IWGP Junior title picture, or, if the division remains stagnant it may be seen as one of the several major missed opportunities that have passed the division by in the last several years. The Intercontinental Championship change, taking place on a bigger platform, and naturally being the second most important title in the company, isn’t under the same pressure from the switch, however, Goto’s ability to absorb another loss of this sort should be in question after suffering this same fate year on year.
Of course, ‘Destruction’ is not the final singles internet pay-per-view of the year, as ‘King of Pro-Wrestling’, a show that since its inception in October of 2011 for New Japan’s first internet pay-per-view, has housed some of the better New Japan matches of any given year. Headlining the show will be Kazuchika Okada defending his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against AJ Styles in what will likely be his final defence until the Dome, and most assuredly his final defence before facing Genichiro Tenryu in Tenryu’s supposed retirement match at Sumo Hall on November 15th. I expect a great match, even if they intend to go with some Bullet Club shenanigans early on. Whether or not they change the title depends on what their current Bullet Club direction is, namely, whether they wish to put all of the titles on the Bullet Club for the third or fourth time. This is only a rough idea, however, and is based solely off of Omega’s win, and the company’s booking pattern of having Bullet Club members win and lose championships as a group. Still, I would be surprised to see Okada lose, as Okada/Tanahashi once more feels, to me personally, the far bigger of the two possibilities.
There are actually more than two possibilities here, as apathetic Naito will be challenging Tanahashi for his Tokyo Dome contract, much in the same way that Fale did at ‘Destruction. It will, undoubtedly be a better match than Fale’s lumbering performance two weeks ago, even if Naito decides to do absolutely nothing, which there isn’t a chance of.
Elsewhere on the card, RPG Vice challenge reDragon in a somewhat fresh and exciting match, only tainted by the fact that we have seen these two teams several times in three and four-way matches with the Young Bucks. Still, I almost always enjoy the two-on-two variant more than multi-man tags, and for that reason I expect a good match. Other interesting matches on the show, including Tomohiro Ishii’s NEVER title challenge to Togi Makabe, a match that I would like to see Ishii win, allowing him to walk away with the title, and away from this stale program with Makabe. Kenny Omega will work opposite Sydal in what sounds like a very good Jr. Heavyweight title match, on paper, that will almost assuredly be marred by Bullet Club interference.
Ryan’s Star Ratings:
Destruction in Okayama:
reDragon vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Mascara Dorada ***
Steve Anthony vs. Tiger Mask IV ** ½ (an extra ½ for the return of Bruce Tharpe!)
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Matt Sydal vs. Tama Tonga & Bad Luck Fale ** ¾
KUSHIDA vs. Kenny Omega *** ¾
Togi Makabe vs. Kota Ibushi *** ¾
Destruction in Kobe:
Yohei Komatsu & Sho Tanaka vs. David Finlay & Jay White *** ¼
Tetsuya Naito vs. Katsuyori Shibata **** ¼
reDragon vs. Time Splitters *** ¾
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Bad Luck Fale ** ½
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hirooki Goto ****