Cubed Circle Newsletter 225
We have a gigantic issue this week as we look at the impact of NXT on international and independent wrestling in what was the most popular post in website history, the tragic passing of the legendary Eiji ‘Hayabusa’ Ezaki, news from the week, RAW from Monday Night, WrestleMania 32 direction, and Mid-South from 1982 with Killer Khan greatness!
The Pro-Wres Digest for February 28th – March 5th.
“The Flying Assassin,” “the Phoenix,” Eiji “Hayabusa” Ezaki tragically passed away on Thursday March 3rd from a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage at the age of just 47 years-old. It is hard to put into words just how heartbreaking the death of Ezaki really is. For many Japanese wrestling fans of a certain age, Hayabusa was hugely influential during the mid/late 90’s when tape trading and P2P file sharing became more accessible due to the growth of the
internet. I remember buying what must have been a fourth or fifth generation VHS tape of the 1994 Super J-Cup off a tape trader’s website in 2001, which for the life of me I cannot remember the name of. All I can recall is that the site was extremely primitive and had a striking sky blue background. Anyway, the tape was almost un-watchable due to terrible colour-bleeding and constant dropped frames every ten seconds or so, however I still watched the thing over and over again. There were countless things about the show that made an impression on me as an inexperienced viewer of Japanese pro wrestling, but the final first round match of Hayabusa vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger might very well have been the most significant in forging a connection with this young fan. I had never even heard of Hayabusa, but this guy looked every bit the striking real-life comic book hero that Liger did and the second I saw him start the match with a huge somersault plancha, I became a fan of ‘Busa for life. Shortly after my exposure to Ezaki, I found as many Hayabusa matches as I could through the old P2P sharing programs like Kazaa and LimeWire. There were Exploding Cage matches with Onita, Barbed Wire Time-Bomb death matches against Terry Funk & Mr Pogo, hybrid-style matches with Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka, and a bizarre pair of matches between “H” and “Hayabusa II” that saw a firecracker being inserted into Ezaki’s anus and the follow up with Shawn Michaels as special referee. I had no idea what to make of the H/Hayabusa II stuff at the time, but I later learned of the whole Ezaki/Gannosuke story and it all started to make sense. Well, except for the Exploding Anus Match. There was also the famous clip of Hayabusa’s last match with Mammoth Sasaki when he slipped on the middle rope while performing a Quebrada and was paralysed from the neck down. I have only ever watched the clip a couple of times, the first when I was 15 and it was one of the most harrowing things I had ever seen in my life. The last time I saw the clip was when I received the three-disc Hayabusa DVD from Highspots in 2008 or-so and watching it again was just as, if not more, upsetting than the first time six years earlier. When footage emerged last year of Ezaki getting out of his wheelchair and walking into a wrestling ring at Korakuen Hall, the outpouring of support and congratulations from fans and wrestlers alike for the inspirational achievement was unanimous. Ezaki had actually done something similar before in 2014 when he was helped out his wheelchair by the likes of Taka Michinoku, Kota Ibushi, Kikutaro and a lot more wrestlers, who assisted Ezaki into the ring. However on August 5th 2015, in front of his peers and legends such as, Genichiro Tenryu, Kenta Kobashi, Keiji Mutoh and many others, Ezaki got out of his wheelchair and walked up the ring steps completely unassisted, except for the use of a single cane, and stepped into the ring to deliver his official retirement speech. “With all my heart, I will do my very best to connect as many people as I can with the dreams and the never-give-up attitude I have received from professional wrestling, even if it’s just one person,” Ezaki said. It is impossible to watch the clip from 5/8/15 without getting chills and tearing-up, and if you are ever having a bad day or letting something trivial get you down, just watch a man who was never supposed to move again and who could very well have died from the severity of his injury, get out of his wheelchair and achieve his goal of walking into a wrestling ring again. It is one of the greatest examples of the indomitable nature of the human spirit you will ever see and solidifies the legacy of Eiji “Hayabusa” Ezaki as a cult-hero and a true trailblazer. Our condolences go out to Ezaki’s family, friends, and fans. He will never be forgotten. [Editor’s Note: Also see the great work Isaac at Wrestling with Words & Brandon at Voices of Wrestling did on their respective sites.]
Mike Johnson of PWInsider broke the story on 26/2 that TNA was actively seeking investors for the company. TNA’s Executive Vice President of Creative & Talent Relations, John Gaburick, confirmed the news with a statement about Dixie Carter spending a lot of time in New York & Los Angeles for, “media interviews about the company’s execution of its 5 year growth plan.” Johnson followed up on the story on 27/2 with some key information, the most notable of all is that Panda Energy is no longer financing TNA and the Carter Family’s main company hasn’t been signing pay cheques since Jeff Jarrett’s minority stake in TNA was bought out last year. According to Johnson, the wrestler’s cheques that used to be sent from Panada’s Texas office have been coming from TNA’s Nashville headquarters. TNA’s international TV deals should be enough to keep them afloat, however Dixie Carter still has the ludicrous idea that TNA could become a “player” in the pro wrestling industry and that certainly isn’t going to happen while they are on PopTV. Johnson also reported that Dixie had held meetings with people from PopTV, although there is no word on whether Pop are interested in buying the company. There have been rumours about a company from the UK wanting to buy TNA, but again there is nothing concrete at this time to report on. Johnson noted that his sources have specifically told him that TNA are looking for partners, which means the company isn’t necessarily up for sale, however, according to Johnson, the Carter’s would not be dismissive if “the right offer came along.” The Carter’s had a chance to offload the malignant TNA brand in 2014 when Jeff Jarrett and Toby Keith wanted to buy the company while they were still averaging 1 million viewers every week on Spike. Things didn’t work out because Bob Rider insisted that Dixie was to be promised a role in the company and remain as an on-screen talent and Keith pulled out of the deal which was likely TNA’s last chance at being salvaged. It has pretty much been downhill ever since for TNA.
There were some interesting notes in this week’s Observer about the WrestleMania 32 card, not least of which is the news that Sami Zayn is scheduled to be wrestling on the show. There were no other details, although Zayn is booked for the post-Mania European tour and should be starting on TV, “very shortly,” according to Dave Meltzer. Zayn’s role on the show is unclear, however he could very well fit into a multi-man Ladder Match for the IC title, which would make all the sense in the world since Kevin Owens is the champion. Still, this is WWE we’re talking about so there is always the chance of them screwing it up. Meltzer also reported that a New Day vs. League of Nations match of some form is pencilled in for Mania, either a traditional tag or a six-man. Alberto Del Rio looks to be going back after Kalisto for the US title, although another match between the two hasn’t been given the okay yet. There will also be, “another singles match with top guys,” with any luck AJ Styles & Chris Jericho, a second women’s match in addition to Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch for the title, plus the Andre the Giant Battle Royal for everyone else with nothing to do. The top three matches are set in stone, with Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose in a Street Fight, Shane McMahon vs. Undertaker in Hell in a Cell for control of RAW, and HHH vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE World title. However there has been very little talk or promotion on TV for the likes of Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and the Rock, all of whom are advertised to be on the show. The Observer states that, “the roles of all but the Rock have been defined,” so why on earth they haven’t been promoting the legends on TV is a mystery.
New Japan’s annual 16-man single-elimination tournament, the New Japan Cup, got under way on 3/3 with the first night at the Ota Ward Gymnasium in Tokyo. Before the event, New Japan owner Takaaki Kidani made a series of big in-ring announcements. First he talked about the “Lion’s Gate trails,” which will essentially be a series of scouting try-outs held across Japan to find a new crop of Young Lions. Next Kidani announced that Michael Elgin had signed a two year contract with New Japan and Elgin came out to cut a short promo about how his two goals growing up were to become the one of the very best and to wrestle in New Japan. Kidani then brought out Katsuyori Shibata and declared that he had officially signed with New Japan after four years of freelancing since his return in 2012. Shibata signed his contract in the ring and said there had been too many goodbyes this year and promised to keep fighting for NJPW. The third announcement was possibly the most interesting of all, as Kidani announced that the Super J Cup would be returning for the first time since 2009. The tourney is scheduled to take place after the G1 in August and they showed a graphic on the screen of the other promotions that will be involved in the J Cup, including, NJPW, CMLL, ROH, Kaientai Dojo, NOAH, Zero One, Dragon Gate, Suzuki-Gun & Ryuku Dragon. Naomichi Marufuji and Taka Michinoku came out as representatives from NOAH and Kaientai Dojo. Marufuji noted that he was now a heavyweight but said that the young juniors from NOAH would be part of the J Cup. Taka said he was there not as a member of Suzuki-Gun, but as the president of K-Dojo and that he had plenty of young K-Dojo wrestlers he wants to showcase. What is notable about the timing of the Super J Cup is that comes one month after the WWE’s Global Cruiserweight Series, which I’m sure is no coincidence. The final announcement was that revival of the Tiger Mask anime which was big in the 1970s and led to the birth of the Tiger Mask gimmick. Kidani said he hopes to get more kids interested in New Japan and even commented that this was something WWE would not be able to do. I guess Kidani isn’t familiar with the WWE’s working relationship with Warner Brothers Animation and isn’t a fan of the recent WWE Scooby-Doo and Flintstone movies.
As a show, the first night of the New Japan Cup was pretty fun overall. The big news is that Bad Luck Fale downed Hiroshi Tanahashi and eliminated him from the tournament in the main event; Tanahashi usually does a very good job of carrying Fale and this match was no different. Match of the night was Tomohiro Ishii over EVIL in a typical hard-hitting Ishii affair; EVIL looked really good in his first big singles match. Elsewhere on the show, there were surprisingly good matches from Yoshi-Hashi, in a losing effort against Tetsuya Naito, and Hiroyoshi Tenzan, who put over Michael Elgin in a solid little match. Satoshi Kojima eliminated Tomoaki Honma in a very good match that had a lot of heat and some great spots. Hirooki Goto pinned Yuji Nagata in a decent match to advance to the quarter-finals, as did Tama Tonga, who got possibly the biggest win of his career with a clean pin over Togi Makabe. The other first round match saw Toru Yano beat Yujiro Takahashi by count-out in about 2 minutes or-so. The only non-tournament match on the card was Katsuyori Shibata & Kushida vs. Kazushi Sakuraba & Kazuchika Okada; match was good and Okada pinned Kushida after the Rainmaker. Afterwards, Okada got on the mic and said there was a new member of Chaos. The arena went dark and Will Ospreay appeared on the screen and declared himself the newest member of Chaos. Ospreay said he was coming for Kushida’s at Invasion Attack on April 10th and stated he would become the first ever British IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion. Ospreay is one of the hottest guys on the UK indie scene right now and his style should fit perfectly into the New Japan Jr division. It came as a little bit of a surprise that he was given a spot in Chaos, however Gedo was clearly impressed with what he saw from Ospreay the last time the New Japan guys were over in the UK in October 2015 when Ospreay had back-to-back **** matches, first in an outstanding three-way with Marty Scrull & AJ Styles then a tremendous singles match with Okada the following night.
The second night at Korakuen Hall on 4/3 was also a good show, however I personally liked the first night a little more. There was a very good 10 man tag match with Ryusuke Taguchi, Kushida, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Katsuyori Shibata beating Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata in about 10 minutes when Shibata pinned Nakanishi with a PK. The New Japan Cup quarter-finals saw Toru Yano upset Satoshi Kojima in a short match which pleased my girlfriend, Bev, to no end. Hirooki Goto downed Tama Tonga in a solid match but the crowd weren’t really into it. Michael Elgin had a decent “mean-guy” match with Bad Luck Fale and Elgin won with a powerbomb out of the corner. Main event saw Tetsuya Naito pin Tomohiro Ishii with Destino in the best match on the card by a wide margin. The semi-finals and final will take place on 12/3 and the two semi-final matches are Goto vs. Elgin and Naito vs. Yano.
FMW had claimed that if their 26/2 show at Korakuen Hall did not sell-out then the promotion would fold once again. As it turns out, they did in fact draw a sell-out of 1,800 people to see the card full of mostly nostalgia acts and it appears FMW will continue to promote shows in the same vein as they shot an angle after the main event which saw Yoshihiro Takayama & Mitsuya Nagai attack Atsushi Onita and declare that UWF was coming back to challenge FMW. Takayama said he would bring Masakatsu Funaki as part of his team with Nagai for a UWF vs. FMW showdown on April 27th at Korakuen Hall. Some of the highlights from the 26/2 show included, Dump Matsumoto & ZAP-T over Miss Mongolia & Miss Koharu in a Stretcher match in 12:11. Shiro Koshinaka, Ricky Fuji & The Last Samurai over Yoshihiro Takayama, W*ING Kanemura & Kotaro Nasu when Koshinaka pinned Nasu with the Samurai Powerbomb at 11:18. Masato Tanaka & Kotaro Suzuki went over Tomohiko Hashimoto & Buffalo in 14:13 when Tanaka hit the Sliding D on Buffalo. Main event saw Atsushi Onita, Hideki Hosaka & Sean Guinness defeat Raijin Yaguchi, NOSAWA Rongai & Sabu in a Street Fight, Barbed-Wire Board & Barricade Mat, Bunkhouse Tornado, Lumberjack, Certified Weapon OK, 7 Million Yen Contention Death Match. Onita pinned Yaguchi with a Lariat at 18:21 and he suffered a gruesome 11 inch scar on his stomach earlier in the match from the barbed-wire. But because he is Atsushi Onita, he worked the very next day for Zero One. Also on the show, veteran female wrestler, Ray, came out in her ring gear after her announcement two weeks ago that she had an inoperable brain tumour, and told the fans that she would fight her tumour and vowed to return to the ring one day.
Speaking of nostalgia shows, Dradition president, Tatsumi Fujinami, joined up with All Japan president, Jun Akiyama, for a press conference on 24/2 and they announced that the two would square off for the first time ever on opposite sides of a tag team main event on March 29th at Korakuen Hall. Fujinami spoke about his regret of never getting to wrestle Jumbo Tsuruta and noted that wrestling Jumbo’s protégé, Akiyama, would be a great honour. In addition to the Fujinami & Hiro Saito vs. Akiyama & Yuma Aoyagi main event of the 29/3 show, Fujinami’s son, LEONA, will be facing Seiya Sanada, plus, Daisuke Sekimoto & Super Tiger vs. Mitsuya Nagai & Kengo Mashimo and Masakatsu Funaki vs. Taka Kunoh have been also booked.
Antonio Inoki’s IGF ran the Tokyo Dome City Hall on 26/2 and drew a near sellout of 2,875 fans to see “Genome35” which was main evented by Naoya Ogawa beating Shinya Aoki in 11 minutes via referee stoppage in a pro wrestling match billed as Inoki’s 73rd Birthday Special Match. Bob Sapp was also on the show and lost in 5:44 to Kendo Kashin with an inside cradle. The semi main event saw Kazuyuki Fujita beat Crusher Kawaguchi in just over 4 minutes as part of Kawaguchi’s farewell tour. In typical Inoki fashion, there was one shoot fight on the card which saw Rodrigo submit Mohammad Bahrami with an armbar at 3:42 of the first round.
Akebono’s new promotion, Ōdō Royal Road, is running their debut show at Korakuen Hall on April 20th with a main event of Akebono, Ryota Hama & Taiyo Kea vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Yuji Okabayashi & Masato Tanaka. I find the disparity in talent between the two teams quite amazing. Akebono announced that they are bringing in three Lucha Underground wrestlers, however there is no word yet on whom AAA will send over for the show. Daichi Hashimoto, Masa Inoue, Mazada & Nosawa are also currently advertised as well.
WWE’s live Network special, “Road Block”, is next week on 12/3 from the Ricoh Arena in Toronto, Canada. The main event, which was set up by the big angle on RAW, is Dean Ambrose challenging HHH for the WWE World Heavyweight title. Also on the show is Brock Lesnar vs. Bray Wyatt, which at one time was pencilled in for WrestleMania ,and an NXT Tag Team title match with Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady challenging The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder). Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus is being advertised locally, however it is unclear if Reigns will even be back for the show or whether the match with Sheamus will be dark and not on the Network portion of the show.
Lucha Underground was made available on iTunes this week. The entire first season is available for $44.99 in HD and $34.99 in SD, while a “Season Pass” is purchasable for the second season, which enables access to new episodes the day after they air on El Rey, at $39.99 HD and $29.99 SD. Unfortunately the deal is only for the US market for the time being, so us international viewers will have to continue to find “alternate means” to watch the shows.
Rey Mysterio worked a WWC show at a baseball stadium in Caguas, Puerto Rico and helped draw a crowd of 3,250 fans for his match against “Mr 450” Hammet on 27/2. Mysterio won the match after Hammet missed the 450 and he hit the 619 and a big splash off the top. Afterwards, Rey challenged Hammet for his Universal Championship and Hammet accepted, so it looks like Mysterio will be going back to work for WWC again in the future.
Kurt Angle did an interview with ESPN UK and spoke about his final match with TNA against Bobby Lashley, which was taped back in January but will air next week on 03/08. Angle said, “I’m not gonna say I’m gonna retire. I am pretty much done with TNA. Not sure, maybe down the road, maybe I might come back, but most likely I probably won’t, because there’s a chance that I might not wrestle again. I just wanna get a feeler this year and see what I wanna do and see where I wanna go.” Angle also told ESPN that he suffered a concussion during a match with Drew Galloway on 29/1, but was “cleared by a doctor” to work the next two nights of the tour against Bobby Roode and Lashley. If this is indeed true then the doctor in question needs to be asked some serious questions about the decision to let Angle compete. The ESPN article also mentions an interview Angle did with Sports Illustrated last month, where Kurt commented on the concussion he suffered during the famous triple threat main event of SummerSlam 2000 against HHH & The Rock.
“There was a spot where Triple H was going to hit me with his sledgehammer, but I had the concussion and didn’t even know I was out there. […] My mind was blank. I came to two hours after the pay-per-view. When Triple H was going to hit me, but he actually put his hand on my head and made sure I ducked. If you watch it over, you’ll see that I was clueless, but he was looking out for me the whole match. They literally had to walk me through every step of the match to make sure I was safe. I don’t remember any of it.”
The RAW ratings were down 4%, which isn’t bad at all considering last week’s show was the day after the FastLane PPV and featured the return of Shane McMahon. The 29/2 show did a 2.62 rating with 3,709,000 viewers across the three hours. 8pm did 3,951,000. 9pm did 3,660,000 and 10pm did 3,551,000. The third hour was the second highest behind the RAW the day after the Royal Rumble, since August 2015. SmackDown on 25/2 did a 1.74 rating with 2,395,000 viewers, the second lowest viewership of the year. iMPACT on 1/3 did 258,000 for the 9pm first-run and 68,000 for the midnight replay for a combined 326,000 viewers, up from last week’s 297,000 (9pm: 210,000, 12am: 87,000).
On a brief note, AAA Tweeted out on 4/3 that Fireball, who has worked in Dragon Gate as Flamita since 2013, will be taking on the gimmick of Octagon Jr. This has led to a lot of speculation from fans about a Pentagon Jr/Octagon Jr feud, which would no doubt be tremendous. Speaking of tremendous lucha feuds, I stayed up until 5am on Friday night/Saturday morning to see the seventh match between Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi. The match, just like their previous six, was phenomenal and easily worth going up to the Claro Sports website to watch. Dragon Lee won back the CMLL World Super Lightweight championship that he lost to Kamaitachi back at Korakuen Hall on January 24th. The match was filled with insane high spots and crazy bumps on the floor; I personally thought the FantasticaMania match was a little better and their fifth match from December 2015 remains my favourite of the series, but once again these two somehow managed to deliver a match that lived up to the expectations of their previous encounters.
WWE RAW Review February 29th 2016 – Boring Show: No Undertaker Explanation, Huntor Rules Again.