Cubed Circle Newsletter 230 – Type Forever!
We are back with one of our biggest issues of the year covering all of the major matches happenings from the biggest weekend in wrestling of the entire year. Ben reviews and discusses WrestleMania 32, the post-Mania RAW, Takeover Dallas, and the Hall of Fame in-depth. Plus we have the largest and most extensive Mixed Bag segment yet with coverage of Shimmer, EVOLVE 58, EVOLVE 59, Mercury Rising, TakeOver, WrestleMania, and more!
The Pro-Wres Digest for April 3rd – April 9th.
The sad news of Blackjack Mulligan’s death was reported by WWE.com on 7/4, although the article didn’t mention a cause or date of death. Mulligan, 73, had been battling health issues for years and suffered a heart attack in June 2015, which at the time Mulligan attributed to suffering from the ill-effects of The Bends after a diving incident years earlier. He was hospitalised earlier this year in February and his grandsons, Windham Rotunda (Bryan Wyatt) & Taylor Rotunda (Bo Dallas), along with their father Mike Rotunda, left the Monday Night RAW show in Dallas, TX and flew to Florida to be with Mulligan. There was no update on Mulligan’s condition at all until the WWE story about his passing on 7/4. The strange thing in all of this is that up until two weeks ago – when all the concussion cases were thrown out of court – the WWE were actually suing Mulligan as a pre-emptive strike to stop him from jumping on the concussion lawsuits. I’m sure Dave Meltzer will write one hell of a bio for Mulligan in the Observer next week, so make sure you give it a read and learn all about one of the biggest characters in pro wrestling during the 70’s and 80’s. Our condolences go out to Mulligan’s family and friends.
Last week there was big speculation about Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows debuting at WrestleMania or, more likely, the next night on RAW. Mike Johnson of PWInsider even reported on 31/1 that Anderson & Gallows were scheduled to be at TV this week. Well, Johnson wasn’t wrong as Scott Hall posted a picture on Twitter of himself with Anderson & Gallows backstage at RAW at the American Airlines Centre. The latest on the situation according to Bryan Alvarez on the F4W audio shows is that Anderson & Gallows actually flew in to Dallas on Sunday while WrestleMania was taking place and they had all their gear with them. They were at TV all day Monday but by the time the show had been finalised, Anderson & Gallows were not included and they ended up just hanging out before flying back home on Tuesday. Anderson & Gallows are still expected to debut imminently, however it appears that they will have to wait until the crack team of Hollywood writers figures out what to do with them.
There was a breakdown of the early WrestleMania numbers in the Observer this week. On April 4th the WWE Network had 1,824,000 subscribers, with 1,454,000 paid and 370,000 free. The US number was 1,109,000 and 281,000 free, whereas outside the US did 345,000 paid and 89,000 free. For comparison, last year the subscriber count was 1,315,000 worldwide with 1,123,000 in the US and 192,000 international. So the comparable numbers are, 1,454,000 paid for 2016 versus 1,315,000 in 2015 for worldwide subscribers and 1,109,000 for the US in 2016 compared to 1,123,000. Both of which are pretty terrible numbers in terms of growth, although we will have to wait until the next WWE earnings report in June to see how many of the 370,000 worldwide free subscribers they can turn into paying customers. The live attendance, which for some reason is always a hotly debate topic due to certain people not being able to fathom that the WWE actually lie about their attendance figures, will undoubtedly be an all-time record for a pro wrestling crowd in the US. The Observer lists the actual number of people in the building as 97,769, with 93,730 being the actual “attendance” number. This breaks both WWE’s legitimate record of 79,127 set at SummerSlam 92 in Wembley Stadium and the fictitious 93,173 from the Pontiac Silverdome at WrestleMania III in 1987; despite what Hulk Hogan and Wikipedia may claim, the real number for WrestleMania III was around 78,000. The 101,763 that WWE announced during WrestleMania is obviously the worked number, however the Dallas Cowboys website has already run a story about WrestleMania 32 drawing the fifth biggest crowd in the history of AT&T Stadium. They of course used the worked, 101,763 number. The all-time record for AT&T Stadium was the NBA All-Star Game on February 14th 2010 which did 108,731 people. WWE announced a live gate of $17.3, although Dave Meltzer noted that sources with access to the figures claim it was “almost” $17 million. Either way, the gate smashed the previous record of $12.6 million from WrestleMania 31 at Levi’s Stadium last year. The merchandise figures have not been released yet, but “building sources” noted they broke the all-time concessions for food & drink, although with a 6 hour and 45 minute show, that isn’t surprising. All of the real figures will likely be buried in WWE’s earnings report in June, so we’ll have a better idea of all the numbers in a couple of months. Regardless, WrestleMania 32, despite all the criticisms about the creative direction of the show, was a monumental money making success for the WWE.
There were also attendance figures for some of the other shows over WrestleMania weekend in the Observer. Evolve & WWN sold out Eddie Dean’s Ranch for three shows, with 1,075 seats being filled. They apparently crammed a lot more people in as standing room only for Evolve 59 on 2/4, with more than 1,500 people in the building to see the Ricochet/Will Ospreay match. Evolve 58 on 1/4 and the WWN Supershow on 2/4 had around 1,200 people in the building. ROH sold out the 1,400 seat Hyatt Regency on two consecutive nights and the Wrestlecon Supershow also sold out the same building on 2/4 which went head-to-head with the WWE Hall of Fame.
If you wondered who the faceless zombie things were during HHH’s WrestleMania entrance, Pro Wrestling Sheet posted a list of names who played Hunter’s army of loyal subjects and fittingly some of the top names from NXT were reportedly part of the performance. The Revival, Chad Gable, Simon Gotch, Chris Girard, Blake, Murphy, Enzo Amore & Elias Samson all made their WrestleMania debuts during the entrance. Hideo Itami appeared at his second WrestleMania under one of the hoods and I honestly don’t know if that is better or worse than his appearance in the Battle Royal last year. WrestlingInc also reported that Finn Balor was in one of the zombie costumes too, which will no doubt become a trivia note like CM Punk’s first Mania appearance as part of John Cena’s entrance in 2006.
Kota Ibushi not only worked the Kaiju Big Battel and WWN Supershow over WrestleMania weekend, he was at NXT TakeOver: Dallas and was brought in to be shown on camera in the crowd. Bobby Roode did the same thing, so it is pretty much a given that these two guy will be part of the Global Cruiserweight Series. On that note, Ricochet is apparently not taking any independent bookings after June. Dave Meltzer noted in the Observer that promoters have been informed he will be unavailable and even more interestingly that New Japan are already looking for a replacement tag team partner for Matt Sydal. Ricochet has a unique deal with Lucha Underground which gives him the option of leaving after three years into the seven year deal. Prince Puma recently lost a Grave Consequences Casket match at the Lucha Undergound tapings and when someone gets put in a casket on LU it usually means their character is dead. Technically, he wouldn’t be able to work on TV for anyone else until season three of LU finishes airing in 2017, although I’m sure WWE could make things happen if they really want to bring Ricochet in.
A report from F4Wonline.com of the NXT house show in Columbia on 8/4 noted that Shinsuke Nakamura appeared to be hurt during a match with his old IWGP IC title rival, Manny Andrade – the former La Sombra. Andrade performed a Moonsault off the top rope to the floor and when he took the move, Nakamura stayed down and the match was stopped for two minutes. There are no further details on the situation at press time, although the report at F4Wonline stated that Nakamura suffered a “significant cut” during the move, so it could just be a case of WWE being careful when it comes to blood. Nakamura appeared to be fine after the doctors worked on him and he was able to finish the match.
New Japan’s biggest show since Wrestle Kingdom 10 on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome is this Sunday, as Invasion Attack will once again emanate from Sumo Hall on 10/4. (9) IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (C) vs. Tetsuya Naito. (8) IWGP Tag Team Championship: Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma (C) vs. Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa. (7) NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (C) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan. (6) NEVER Trios Championship: The Elite (C) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin & Yoshitatsu. (5) IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Matt Sydal & Ricochet (C) vs. Roppongi Vice. (4) IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: Kushida (C) vs. Will Ospreay. (3) Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Bushi & Evil. (2) Kazushi Sakuraba, Toru Yano & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Satoshi Kojima & Yuji Nagata. (1) Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Juice Robsinson & Rysuke Taguchi.
The main event is arguably the biggest match – outside of another Okada/Tanahashi outing – that the company can put on at this point and is an important match for both men. Okada needs to prove he can do good business and have great matches on top against someone other than Tanahashi and Naito could truly cement himself as a legitimate main eventer if he can deliver a memorable main event performance. I don’t expect Naito to win the title, but there aren’t really any other strong challengers for Okada and they certainly don’t want to turn Naito into a perennial failure in title matches like Hirooki Goto, so it will be interesting to see how the book the finish. It’s also a big night for the Guerrillas of Destiny; Tama Tonga has a chance to step out of the shadows and into a major role, while Tanga Roa needs to make a good impression in his first big title match. Believe it or not, I’m quite excited for Shibata vs. Tenzan, as the story of Shibata fighting the old guard has been a lot of fun and I’m sure Tenzan will do everything in his power to have a good match, which may or may not be a good thing. Ospreay & Kushida have an opportunity to steal the show if they get enough time and I have a lot more faith in Ospreay to deliver a star-making performance than Tango Roa. One of the more intriguing things about the show is how well it will do in terms of business and just how much of a strong show the company can deliver now we are well and truly into the post-Nakamura/AJ Styles era.
Tatsumi Fujinami and Jun Akiyama squared off for the first time ever during a tag team main event of the Dradition show at Korakuen Hall on 29/3. The 880 fans they drew saw Fujinami & Hiro Saito beat Akiyama & Yuma Aoyagi in 8:57 when Fujinami put Aoyagi in the Dragon Sleeper. After the match they did an angle to set up an apparent singles match. Fujinami, 62, and Akiyama, 46, shook hands but Akiyama refused to shake Fujinami’s son Leona’s hand and threw him out of the ring. Akiyama challenged Fujinami to a singles match and Fujinami said they could have the match any time. Also on the show, Maskatsu Funaki downed Taka Kunoh in 11:50 with a running kick. Daisuke Sekimoto & Kengo Mashimo beat Super Tiger & Mitsuya Nagai when Mashimo pinned Nagai with a Brainbuster at 17:00. Fujinami’s son Leona worked the undercard and lost in 12:25 to Seiya Sanada.
Satoru Sayama’s Real Japan Pro Wrestling drew a sellout of 1,545 fans at Korakuen Hall on 24/3 for a card full of mostly legends. Main event saw Daisuke Sekimoto retain the Legends Championship over former RINGS star Mitsuya Nagai with his German Suplex Hold at 20:49. The semi-final had Minoru Suzuki reuniting with fellow Pancrase founder Masakatsu Funaki to team with Ryo Kawamura against Super Tiger, Taka Kunoh & Hikaru Sato. Funaki pinned Sato with his Hybrid Blaster Piledriver at 17:40. Tatsumi Fujinami, Yuki Ishikawa & Alexander Otsuka beat Minoru Tanaka, Masato Shibata & Bear Fukuda in 11:46. The Great Sasuke & Masao Orihara over Ultimo Dragon & Kotaro Nasu when Orihara pinned Nasu with a Ligerbomb at 11:15. Gran Hamada won a 10-man Battle Royal and the opener saw Nobuyuki Kurashima down Hidehiko Hasegawa via pinfall in 6:12.
La Parka reportedly fainted during the main event of a Martinez Entertainment Lucha show on April 1st in Benbrook, TX. Parka was teaming with Ultimo Ninja against Pentagon Jr & Violento Jack and didn’t get up off the mat after performing a Sunset Flip on Pentagon Jr. The rudos quickly won the match and an ambulance was called as Parka laid unconscious on the mat for several minutes. Apparently Parka refused to be treated by the medical team, however he ended up being taken to hospital where he was checked over and appeared to be fine. From the video, it doesn’t look like Parka landed awkwardly on the Sunset Flip at all, which leads one to believe that it wasn’t spine or neck related.
MVP announced at WaleMania on 31/3 that he was joining Lucha Underground. He later clarified on Twitter that he had already been working with LU as an agent and it remains to be seen whether he will be used as a talent. The Cubs Fan noted that MVP has been working as an agent for about a month and Dave Meltzer, who was at WaleMania, said MVP started in an agent role when the tapings for season two began.
The RAW after WrestleMania on 4/4 did a pathetic 2.93 rating with 4,093,000 viewers. The show is up from the 2.66 rating and 3.771 million viewers they did last week, but was actually down from the post-Royal Rumble show on 25/1 which did a 2.93 rating with 4,091,000 viewers. 8pm did 4,287,000 viewers. 9pm did 4,178,000 and 10pm was down to 3,816,000. Last year’s show the day after WrestleMania did a 3.67 rating with 5.35 million viewers.
TNA iMPACT on 5/4 did 272,000 for the 9pm first run and 66,000 for the midnight replay, with a combined number of 338,000. Not good at all.
Lucha Underground on 6/4 set another record with 156,000 viewers for the first-run and 78,000 for the replay, making it the most watched episode ever with 234,000 viewers.
Total Divas on 5/4 did 649,000 on E!, which is up from 563,000 last week.
The SmackDown leading into WrestleMania on 31/3 did a 1.66 rating with 2,328,000 viewers; down from the 1.75 and 2,501,000 viewers the previous week with Brock Lesnar on the show.
Ben’s WrestleMania Weekend:
The first thing I actually watched was the live Steve Austin podcast with Mick Foley from Axxess on Thursday night. It was perfectly fine, although Noelle Foley’s appearance was pretty rough. If you’ve read any of his books (and I’m sure most of you have) you’ve pretty much heard all his stories before, but Foley is such a good storyteller it is easy to sit and listen to him go over the same stuff. The highlight of the podcast came at the very end when Steve Austin was wrapping up and giving a plug for WrestleMania. Austin, who was clearly in DGAF mode, buried the free month of the Network gimmick and said he wasn’t down with giving away Mania for free. This was pretty much the only live stuff we got from Axxess this year, which I was disappointed by since the daily live shows from Axxess the last couple of years were a fun way to give people at home a sense of the festivities. There was a live Facebook stream of Stephanie & HHH taking a tour around Axxess before the fans were let in, which was cool, although completely jarring to see good ‘ol Uncle Paul & jolly Auntie Steph acting like regular human beings.
Friday evening was the Evolve 58 show and once again during their biggest weekend of the year, WWNLive experienced buffering issues and everyone missed the finish of the opening match. The issues with the stream were much worse on Saturday for Evolve 59, when viewers missed half of the show due to the dreaded buffering and, as expected, Gabe Sapolsky received the usual abuse on Twitter. Maybe Eddie Dean’s Ranch were not totally upfront with their bandwidth capacity, but surely something more could have been done to prevent such a disaster occurring. I know Evolve is a small promotion, but they really need to start sending people to their WrestleMania weekend venues early to do as many checks as possible before going live and hoping for the best. Undoubtedly WWN gets a lot more traffic during WrestleMania weekend, but that should also be legislated for and certainly somebody could be hired to crunch the numbers to see if the building’s bandwidth can cope with all the extra traffic. Gabe could always go to his good pal Paul and ask to borrow a few grand to make sure that the shows with WWE contracted talent on go off without a hitch. As is standard practise, if you bough just the live streams you get the VOD free and if you purchased the VOD option for both of the maligned Evolve shows you get five free VODs as a make-good from WWN. I suppose there is not much else WWN can do besides giving refunds and they are very carny about giving people their money back, so that is pretty much not an option. I will be redeeming my five free VODs, since I was foolish enough to by the VOD option for both Evolve shows, but like a said on Twitter at the time: I don’t want a free VOD, I want what I paid for to work.
Anyway, back to Evolve 58. The show was pretty enjoyable, although some of the booking was highly suspect. For starters, they put on the Tag Team title match first, which everyone missed, then had the Thatcher/Riddle World title match go one second while the streaming issues were still going on. I saw most of the Thatcher/Riddle match and they worked well together, but just like their previous match there was a screwy finish and the fans were not happy at all. They booked themselves into a corner and to find a way out they had Thatcher do an injury angle and the match was stopped. This did lead to Thatcher doing a tremendous sell job the rest of the weekend on his arm, which was nice to see in 2016. TJ Perkins & Ricochet had a really good match. TJP worked heel and did a great job of telling a story in there, which often doesn’t happen during Ricochet matches. TJP worked on the leg and kept the high-flyer grounded; Ricochet made his comeback but his leg gave out during the finish and TJP tapped him out with a heel hook at 14:15 (*** ¾). Afterwards, Stokley Hathaway showed up and told HHH to sign TJP for the Cruiserweight Series. Zack Sabre Jr & Will Ospreay had what may have been the best match of the entire weekend – the only match that even came close was Nakamura/Zayn. They had a great match in Progress last year, but this easily topped it; both men wore pink wrist tape in honour of Kris Travis and it certainly felt like these two went out there to do their friend, who passed away the day before, proud. They went back and forth early with some World of Sport on speed action. Sabre worked his crisp holds and Ospreay came back with a Space Flying Tiger Drop. They did some great near-falls; the best spot of the match saw Ospreay go for a standing Shooting Star Press and Sabre caught him in a beautiful Triangle, which probably should have been the finish. Sabre kicked out of the Essex Destroyer and a standing Spanish Fly then got the win at 16:29 after hitting a PK, a Ligerbomb and a sick Double-Arm Seated Stump-puller thing. (**** ¾). The main event couldn’t really follow Sabre & Ospreay; Drew Gulak & Tracy Williams beat Chris Hero & Tommy End in a good (***) 27:41 match that went about 10 minutes too long.
As noted, Evolve 59 on Saturday had the worst of the buffering issues and the show was almost half over by the time everything got sorted out. I still haven’t gone back to check out the rest of the card, but the last three matches were at least very good. Matt Riddle submitted Zack Sabre Jr in 9:20. They almost told the opposite story to what you would have expected; Sabre got the better of the grappling and submissions early, while Riddle used more traditional pro wrestling techniques. They did a fighting spirit slap exchange and Sabre got a near-fall with the PK. Finish saw Riddle apply a Twister Lock to get the win (*** ¾). Marty Scurll submitted Timothy Thatcher at 9:39 of a non-title match. Scurll did his usual great douchey heel routine and went after Thatcher’s injured arm from the night before. They told a basic story and Scurll caught Thatcher in the Chicken Wing and he had to tap-out (*** ¼). Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay was one of the more anticipated matches of the weekend and the two delivered exactly the kind of crazy spot-filled video game-style match everyone expected. Tons of mirror spots early; the story was that Ospreay had come to usurp Ricochet’s spot as the new king of the high flyers. Both guys hit a Reverse Rana for a double-down, which were surprisingly the only Reverse Ranas I saw all weekend; if this were PWG we would have had 10 of them on the undercard. They did a good job of building and escalating towards the finish with all kinds of big moves for near-falls. Finish saw Ospreay go for a handspring Ace Crusher but Ricochet countered into the Benadryller to get the win (**** ¼).
The WWN Supershow surprisingly went off without any buffering issues and was probably the second best show of the weekend behind NXT TakeOver. The only thing that hurt the show was a 45 minute period of downtime with no wrestling then they came back from intermission with three pretty dull matches that the crowd didn’t really have much interest in. Thankfully, the main event of Kota Ibushi, Johnny Gargano & TJ Perkins vs. Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll & Tommy End was all kinds of insanely awesome. They did so much stuff it would be impossible to recap it all; the highlight was Ibushi & Ospreay doing Moonsaults off a balcony onto everybody. Ibushi pinned Ospreay with a Powerbomb at 22:58. The opener saw Chris Hero & Zack Sabre Jr go nearly thirty minutes and they had a hell of a match (****). It was a strange choice to put it on first, but I believe both Hero & Sabre were booked on the WrestleCon Supershow across town and had to leave early to make that show. Drew Gulak submitted Fred Yehi in a fun 9:27 match with the Dragon Sleeper (***). Afterwards, Gulak offered Yehi a spot in Catch Point and he accepted. This was only my third time seeing Yehi but he certainly impressed me and is a great fit for the stable of grapplers. Speaking of Catch Point, Matt Riddle & Tracy Williams had a match in the spirit of competition (and because Riddle had beaten Williams twice in the past). They probably had the second best match on the show and Williams handed Riddle his first real defeat when he tapped him out with the Crossface at 13:01 (**** ¼). We then got a slew of average/boring matches, from Ethan Page beating Tony Nese in the world’s dullest No DQ match, to Taylor Made & Caleb Konely retaining the Shine & FIP titles in matches that nobody cared about then Timothy Thatcher retained the Evolve title over Sami Callihan in a 16:30 match that wasn’t that great either (**). It was past 5am UK time when the main event started and I was starting to lag a little after the run of matches beforehand. Everyone in the main event was great and once it got going I emerged from my stupor and thoroughly enjoyed the match.
WrestleMania Weekend Awards 2016
Last year we began what will hopefully become an annual tradition in our WrestleMania Weekend Awards. The reasoning for the majority of the awards can be extrapolated from the rest of the issue, although the “Top Prospect” award does require some clarification.
The “Top Prospect” award is given to a wrestler on any one of the WrestleMania Weekend shows in the general WrestleMania area who hasn’t worked any past Mania Weekend. The “Top Prospect” should be a performer with great potential as a future worker and star in the business – the Top Prospect must have had at least one good to great performance on the Weekend.
Weekend MVP: Shinsuke Nakamura
[Runners Up: Will Ospreay, Sami Zayn, Zack Sabre Jr.]
Match of the Weekend: Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr., EVOLVE 58, April 1st
[Runners Up: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Chris Hero, Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn]
Top Prospect: Heidi Lovelace
[Runners Up: Fred Yehi, Matt Riddle]
Show of the Weekend: NXT TakeOver Dallas
[Runners Up: Mercury Rising, SHIMMER 80]
WrestleMania Weekend Moment: “Fight Forever” chants and final stretch of the Shinsuke Nakamura/Sami Zayn match.
[Runners Up: Zayn & Owens’ WrestleMania entrances, Ibushi & Ospreay moonsaults off of Eddie Dean’s Balcony, Sasha Banks’ WrestleMania entrance]