Week in Wrestling #25
Wrestling News From the week of
January 20th - January 28, 2016
The Rumble itself on 1/24 at the Amway Arena in Orlando was a strong show. HHH won his 14th world championship by winning the Rumble, a result many predicted going in.
As far as the main card went, every match was good, and the Ambrose vs. Owens last man standing match was great. The Rumble itself was one of the better ones in history.
It was clear more work than usual was done on detail work. Usually there are dead periods in such a match and peak for the bigger stars to enter. Here it flowed the entire time. Even with limited roster depth, there weren’t many throw away entrants, and those that were all had something entertaining to do before they were quickly dispatched. More of the eliminations seemed to have purpose. More of the squaring off of talent seemed to have unique interest than usual.
There was little in the way of surprises so that the only big surprise, AJ Styles making his WWE debut, would have more of a meaning. And they picked the right audience since he ended up getting the biggest reaction on the show and got the biggest reaction in the match. Really, the only reactions of heavily booing when people were eliminated were for Styles and Lesnar. And in the case of Styles, as soon as he was dumped, with the crowd starting protesting “A.J. Styles,” chants, they immediately brought in Dean Ambrose, and then the other surprise, hardcore favorite Sami Zayn, the only NXT entrant, and Zayn and Owens went right at it.
Check out my our full Rumble recap here.
Roman Reigns Treatment
HHH winning is still planned as the means to the end game of setting up the big coronation of Roman Reigns as the company’s top star by winning the title at WrestleMania. But the booking moves to lead to this over the past week have been interesting and questionable.
26 minutes into the match, Reigns was beaten up by the League of Nations and injured, when Rusev splashed him through the announce table. This lead to Reigns being carried out, but then walking to the back, only to return later.
The idea was that they didn’t want him to appear weak by being taken out on a stretcher. The idea was he showed his toughness by getting off the stretcher and refusing to give them the satisfaction. But that was never explained. To the fans, and this was the reaction from many people who were casual fans, he was able to get off the stretcher, so why did he walk to the back instead of back to the ring.
Fans have been conditioned forever for the walk to the back to be the heel coward move. If anything, they should have done a cutaway of the doctors taping him up and refusing to let him return, and him returning anyway. Even though the reaction to Reigns had improved greatly in recent weeks, he was booed during this match. But after all that, he was booed considerably more when he returned, and fans cheered when HHH eliminated him. May be just for this show, but its still interesting.
Reigns going after HHH as champion is better for WrestleMania this year than Reigns defending against HHH. So once the decision was made to go with that as the main event, HHH winning the Rumble for the title made sense. That way he wouldn’t outright beat Reigns in a match to win it, although he was the guy to throw Reigns out and it was far cleaner than one would have expected. You could really make the case it would have been better, especially for the next month and intrigue, for Ambrose to have dumped Reigns and HHH coming from behind to dump Ambrose in more heel fashion and fluke into the title instead of looking so strong to win the title.
There was nothing heelish about HHH’s win, and Reigns was the one who took the 25 minute break in the middle of the Rumble match, which the crowd didn’t see as a babyface move.
WWE Fast Lane
Fast Lane on 2/21 in Cleveland, there will be no title match, with the main event being Reigns vs. Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar, with the winner getting the shot at HHH at WrestleMania.
For the money they pay Lesnar and storyline, given Lesnar never actually lost the title and would be the biggest name appearing on that card, he, in theory, should be in the match. And Ambrose was added because on paper it seems to be a way to avoid having Lesnar get beat. The one thing I can see with the three-way is if Ambrose is to lose, they can turn him out of jealousy, because Reigns does need new heel foes as champion. Reigns would have a challenger with history, who could have great matches with him and do great promos.
The Rock Returns
Johnson returned on Raw and was hilarious. But he gave no hints at all what his role in WrestleMania is. The last word we had was that he wasn’t going to be wrestling on the show, but he’s made it clear his role is something big. The obvious thing, whether that’s the plan or not, I don’t know, would be for Johnson to be in Reigns’ corner and Vince McMahon to be in HHH’s corner. That would at least help the crowd have the “right” reaction because Vince usually can turn a crowd at will.
As far as WrestleMania goes, there were teases in the Royal Rumble as far as direction goes. Lesnar and Wyatt are earmarked together, either as a singles or in a tag, with the Wyatt Family likely costing Lesnar the three-way at Fast Lane in some form.
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks is the likely Divas title match, which makes sense after the matches they had in NXT. A key thing in Orlando, and granted, this is Orlando, where NXT is home and a Hardcore traveling fan base that is more likely to watch NXT on the network, but the women were the most over they have been. The crowd went nuts for Banks and her confronting Charlotte. I could see a three-way with Becky Lynch at Fast Lane as making sense to lead to it.
Whether they happen or not, some things teased during the Rumble match included Ambrose vs. Jericho, Styles vs. Owens and Owens vs. Sami Zayn. To show the depth issues, with the exception of New Day’s title defense, and Undertaker’s match (where the opponents seem limited to Strowman, Sheamus or Rusev, or possibly Undertaker & Lesnar vs. The Wyatts, although the Kane & Undertaker vs. Wyatts program where the Wyatts were destroyed for Survivor Series was a big disappointment when it came to interest), that’s pretty much all the key people accounted for.
WWE Hall of Fame Class Rumored
While not officially announced, the WhatCulture web site listed this year’s WWE Hall of Fame class as Sting, The Fabulous Freebirds, Regis Philbin, Jacquelyn Moore (Jackie), John Layfield (JBL) and Charles Wright (The Godfather).
Sting is the only name thus far announced. We will see if this rings true, as we have heard these names hinted as the direction.
On Twitter, former WWE Champion Sheamus released a photo of himself with a cast on his left arm.
The injury is legitimate, but we don't have much in the way of details other than he has tendonitis in the arm. He isn't expected to be out of the ring for too long, but the timing of when he'll be able to wrestle again has not been determined.
As of today, the feeling is that he will likely remain on television in storylines but won't be working matches, similar to the role Wade Barrett has been doing in the League of Nations in recent weeks. Sheamus last worked on Raw Monday night in a tag team match with Rusev as his partner against Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose. He missed considerable time in late-2014/early 2015 due to injuries, returning on the March 30th, 2015, edition of RAW.
We are also awaiting confirmation on another upper level WWE wrestler that might be hurt.
Nakamura Debut Announced
We got our answer as to when we'll see first Nakamura under his new wrestling umbrella: NXT TakeOver in Dallas, TX, during Wrestlemania weekend.
During the NXT tapings in Orlando, FL, general manager William Regal played a video for the crowd announcing that the former NJPW Champion's first appearance will be at the sold-out TakeOver event on Friday, April 1st on WWE Network. Fans learned of his opponent for that show will be Sami Zayn.
Nakamura held a press conference on 1/25 after the end of the Fantastica Mania tour and talked about his departure without ever saying WWE, since he’s not supposed to say anything even though everybody knows.
He said he feels like he’s been in a rut the last two years in New Japan and has gone as far as he can go and is looking for new challenges. He said he wanted to continue growing as a wrestler. Without saying WWE, he said he’s been thinking about this direction for a couple of years and made the decision to go in November.
He was asked about having to change his style and do long promos and just said that he would be himself. He said he expected his last match on 1/30 (which airs live at 4:30 a.m. Eastern on New Japan World) to be very emotional with the last time he’s sharing the ring with the guys he’s worked with for so many years. He said he’s thankful for what New Japan has done for him but he feels he needs to make the best decision for himself.
He then handed the IC title belt to New Japan Chairman of the Board Naoki Sugabayashi and Sugabayashi said he wishes Nakamura the best of luck in his future.
After that match, Nakamura will be coming to Orlando to get acclimated to his new surroundings. For those who want him to debut immediately on the main roster with a push, believe me, from people who have been in a somewhat similar position (superstars who worked a different system and style in a foreign country), some time in Orlando is the best thing for everyone and not a sign that they are wasting him. The more he knows what he needs to know about their system before his main roster debut, the better off he will be. Plus, it is really important for WWE to not squander him, because him being a legit superstar in WWE will greatly help the company in the Japanese market, creating more interest in TV deals for them as well and merch and making the live tours bigger.
NXT Take Over Dallas
NXT TakeOver Dallas lineup for 4/1 based on what happened Wednesday:
TNA talks AJ Styles
One of the weirdest stories of the past week was an article written on the TNA web site which claimed that A.J. Styles, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson had signed a contract with the promotion in December and then backed out of the deal.
It is well known that TNA was getting aggressive in trying to replenish talent after suffering so many losses of stars in the past year, as well as the expected loss of Kurt Angle when his contract expires.
TNA claims that a handshake and written deal between A.J., Drew, Chad and TNA was agreed upon and signed by all. Start dates were determined, creative decided, merchandise designed and plane tickets purchased. And that over the Christmas holiday, after the lawyers finalized the long form agreement, all communications with TNA stopped. AJ’s lawyer contacted TNA and stated the wrestlers had changed their mind and would not be honoring their commitment to TNA.
Sources close to the wrestlers indicated that they had signed no contracts with TNA, and WWE didn’t hold off using Styles, which they would have done if they believed there was any valid contract in existence with another company.
Styles had been in talks with New Japan, ROH, WWE and TNA for the past few months. He had made it clear he was going to go to whoever offered the best deal. TNA really wanted Styles back, particularly since his reputation grew to being considered as one of the best, if not the best wrestler in the world after all his great matches the past two years.
According to those close to the situation, there were verbal agreements as far as all three being happy with the numbers TNA offered, but they claim TNA was fully aware they were also talking to the other three companies. Anderson came very close to taking the TNA deal. It’s said that once WWE realized that Styles was available, there were feelings of merchandise possibilities because they were well aware of the popularity of the “Bullet Club” t-shirts, and while they couldn’t own that name, they could use the “Balor Club” and market it themselves.
It was described as that once WWE got serious on wanting them and made real offers, the picture changed for all three. Styles, in particular, given his age and with the back injury being a wake-up call, was looking for a guaranteed deal with long-term stability and no company is as stable as WWE.
One person close to the situation said that Styles, Gallows and Anderson had all gotten “to a comfortable place” in the TNA talks but the contract they then all received had different language regarding flights and merchandise than what was agreed upon at the meeting, and that hurt matters.
Plus, to show how much WWE wanted him, WWE was willing to put Styles immediately on the main roster, something that they’ve done for nobody new in years, and allowed him to keep his name. It was noted in stories that Styles would retain the rights to his name after leaving, but that’s pretty much a given since he had established the name prior to coming, similar to how C.M. Punk would always be able to use his name professionally, as would John Cena and Brock Lesnar (who started during a time period when WWE was doing more real names of top guys), while Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose could not.
For New Japan, this has to be considered a wake-up call for that company regarding attempting to fit into a global wrestling world and maintain its talent and standard for having the best wrestling in the world, as far as paying top talent and longer term contracts giving the talent more stability.
New Japan Pro Wrestling, which was already suffering from declining attendance and interest, received another major setback when Hiroshi Tanahashi, its biggest star, suffered a dislocated right shoulder during the Fantastica Mania tour.
The loss of Tanahashi would have never been good, but it’s far worse for the company after its recent talent losses. It was figured that Tanahashi would be needed for a singles program to get Kenny Omega over as a viable top foreigner.
Tanahashi & Michael Elgin were scheduled to face Mark & Jay Briscoe on the ROH 14th anniversary PPV show on 2/26 in Las Vegas. At this point there is no word on if or how that show will change past the point ROH wasn’t aware of the injury as of 1/25. The planned card, which had not been announced, had to be already redone due to the New Japan departures.
Samoa Joe finally getting called Up!
In what can be considered a major news story because of the timing of everything, Samoa Joe is currently earmarked to start on the main roster after WrestleMania, perhaps as soon as the Raw on the next day. As of right now the debut is earmarked for Dallas the day after, but that depends on creative and it may be delayed, but the wheels are in motion for it to happen.
There is talk he’ll beat Balor for the title on the Dallas Takeover and they’ll lengthen the program, meaning that would delay his main roster move. If that happens, that would also indicate a Zayn move as there has been consideration to him starting after Mania with a ready-made Owens program. What makes this significant is that when Joe was first signed, it was to be as NXT talent with a contract that would allow him to continue to do indies, similar to that of Tommy Dreamer and Rhino, as an example. Now, there were pitches from the start to bring him up but that didn’t happen.
He was to be a credible star that could headline NXT shows against the NXT top stars and help the brand draw hardcore fans on the road. But his performance was impressive enough that he’s being taken from the brand and getting a main roster spot. Balor, who many expected to also debut after Mania, at least for right now, that doesn’t look to be the case as they are still looking at him to be the flagship singles star of the NXT brand past March
Austin Aries finally debuts
Austin Aries debuted on the NXT tapings on 1/22. He’d been in talks with the promotion since his TNA contract ran out. I’m figuring the delay was him doing his medicals. He’s the perfect example of how times have changed for the better. In 2011, he was one of the final cuts for the Steve Austin season of Tough Enough because of the idea that he was too short. He’s another guy who should be on the main roster but looks to be earmarked for NXT alone
Jeff Hardy resigns with TNA
Jeff Hardy was announced as having signed a new contract. Matt clearly has one coming soon as well, given that he is the main star and the nature of teh current big angle that involves both Hardy's.
Jeff was a much bigger star in WWE and had talked openly about going back, but with his injury, the easier schedule here makes far more sense. While Matt vs. Jeff is obviously the direction and it’s always flamed out when done in WWE, I actually think the nature of Matt’s turn makes it more viable because they used the wife as the impetus which is a lot more “real” than what WWE did in the past like Matt setting fire to his house and killing his dog type stuff.
The Wolves resign with TNA
Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards were announced by TNA as having signed new deals that will go into effect in May. TNA made the announcement although the actual contracts were not signed at the time of the announcement. Edwards & Richards had both agreed to terms and the signing from both sides was considered a formality.
Due to increases in revenue that have come in due to escalators in the U.K. and India television deals (which are really the two things that are keeping the company alive at this point), plus the Angle contract off the books and the money earmarked for Styles, Gallows & Anderson also off the books, that opened up revenue to offer good contracts to keep guys WWE was making offers to but not big money offers to from leaving.
TNA has gotten through what looked to be a tough financial time and is offering new contracts in the low six-figure range to the key talents. Both were among the wrestlers from TNA who were also in talks with WWE, and like with James Storm, the money difference was significant in the two offers. We don’t have figures and it wasn’t like Storm where the TNA offer was two-and-a-half times the WWE offer, but the terms were good, apparently considerably more than both have ever made previously in wrestling. In their case, the decision was based on TNA offering more guaranteed money vs. the potential money in WWE if they became stars there.
The pipeline from NXT, where they would undoubtedly start, to main roster, is very slow with tons of competition for very few openings. But there is the feeling that WWE can help make their names bigger, even in NXT vs. TNA because NXT is a hotter brand. But in TNA, they are tag champs and with them having a good contract are pretty much a lock to be pushed while in WWE you never know how things will break and they could get lost in the shuffle.
As noted a few weeks ago, Richards had seemingly decided to take the WWE offer and went on Twitter stating that he could take no more independent bookings after 4/30, which is when his TNA contract expired. TNA evidently came back with a offer quickly because within days after that tweet, the feeling was that both were staying, although the agreement to stay wasn’t finalized until this week. Both are getting guaranteed money deals that once the contract goes into effect, will allow them to continue to take indie bookings, but promoters will have to go through TNA to book them, instead of them doing their bookings on their own.
The way the new contracts work, is that they guys will get a regular paycheck every two weeks, as opposed too being paid at shows or based on dates. There are no bonuses for working dates. If outside promoters want to book talent, TNA will assign the talent to their shows and the promoters would pay TNA for their services. The talent doesn’t get money from doing those shows, as the guarantee is also based on TNA having the ability to exclusively book the talent wherever it wants outside of TNA. So, that puts the contracts in a different light if you think about it.
If TNA can sign someone for $100,000 per year, and then book them two dates per week at $750 per shot, with a few weekends off here and there, that can be close to $75,000 a year of income coming in. If they can get $1,000 per shot for them, they’ll make virtually the entire contract back. So the key to making these new deals work from a TNA standpoint is for their TV to get the contracted guys over enough a stars to where indie promoters will have a demand for them. TNA has historically not been very good at that.
ROH resigns Jay Lethal and Others
Ring of Honor announced that three of its top stars -- ROH champion Jay Lethal, Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly -- have signed new contracts with the organization and there are major booking plans in place for all three men in the year ahead.
Lethal signed several weeks ago, while Fish and O'Reilly inked deals about a week ago.
All had been expected to re-sign since Lethal had not lost the championship in any of his recent title defenses. Additionally, Fish & O'Reilly staying on also included the provision they'll continue to keep their jobs with New Japan Pro Wrestling, something the Young Bucks got in their deal when they re-signed in October 2015.
The new deals were similar to the old deals in that ROH will have exclusivity on the wrestlers in North America, but they are free to take overseas bookings. The lone exception to the stateside exclusivity are PWG shows.
Lethal vs. O'Reilly vs. Adam Cole for the ROH title will headline the 2/26 ROH PPV show from Las Vegas, Nevada.
The combination of it being the Raw after the Royal Rumble on 1/25 and the return of Dwayne Johnson led Raw to its biggest numbers in months, doing a 2.93 rating and averaging 4,091,000 viewers (1.46 viewers per home). The rating was up 20.1 percent from the prior week’s non-football almost 19 year record low, while viewership was up 17.6 percent from the prior week.
The keys were that the first hour was up 10 percent from last week, so that’s the beginning interest level. The show doing far stronger than the prior week in hours two and three speak more to the fact people were more interested in staying. They pushed a mystery surprise guest several hours before the show on social media, although previous teases like that have never led to a bump. However, it was pushed on the show, and Johnson showed up late in the second hour. His going through the curtains for his live interview and interplay with New Day was timed to start at 10 p.m., and he was out long. Unusual by recent standards, the second hour actually beat the first hour, and the third hour didn’t drop much.
The Raw after the Royal Rumble always does well. Last year’s show did a 3.27 rating and 4.41 million viewers for a show during a blizzard where it was done from studio and they aired the Rumble itself on television. In 2014 the show did a 3.23 rating and 4.70 million viewers. In 2013, the show did a 3.67 rating and 5.01 million viewers.
The show did 4,140,000 viewers in the 8 p.m. hour, 4,183,000 viewers in the 9 p.m. hour and 3,972,000 viewers in the 10 p.m. hour.
The last time Raw topped 4 million viewers was on 6/15, for a Raw promoted around Brock Lesnar’s return after his post-WrestleMania suspension for breaking Michael Cole’s neck, which did 4.11 million viewers.
Raw was the highest rated show on cable for the night.
Nikki Bella Career in Jeopardy
The career of Nikki Bella, 32, is up in the air, as she is scheduled for neck fusion surgery on 1/27. Bella is the star of Total Divas. Right before stopping wrestling at the end of October, she had been the longest reigning WWE Divas champion in history. She expects to have a plate and three screws put in the neck to allow for the fusion.
She said that she had been in pain since July, but continued to work. She said that she didn’t get an MRI until September, about one week before the Night of Champions show where she dropped the title to Charlotte. When the results came in, they showed she had a herniated disc between her C-6 and C-7 vertebrae, she stopped wrestling. A few weeks before she stopped wrestling she left hints on Twitter that she may be stepping away. Since that time, she was attempting to rehab the injury, but after three months, it wasn’t working out.
John Cena, her boyfriend, had similar surgery in 2008. She said that it won’t be clear until after surgery if she’ll be able to return. She will be in a neck brace for three months. She said that if she can return, she’ll have a better idea of when in about six months. She believes her rack attack finisher was part of the reason for her injury and will not use it if and when she returns. The surgery and recovery will be used as a storyline for the currently filming season of Total Divas, which is why it was released to E!
At least some of the talent was expecting Bryan to return at the Rumble. It was something that was going around even though Bryan hadn’t been cleared. It was probably a combination of the report here last week that he was cleared by the doctors at UCLA, although that specified he hasn’t been cleared by WWE and Dr. Joseph Maroon, and the feeling it’s the Rumble/Mania season.
WWE had at one point told Bryan outright that he was not going to be cleared and has been offered other jobs in the organization. Later, Bryan spoke to Vince McMahon to argue his case and Vince tempered it by saying he probably wouldn’t be cleared but didn’t say that’s 100 percent.
Pro Wrestling Sheet reported that Batista was at the Royal Rumble and was offered an appearance spot at WrestleMania, but that it was unlikely to happen. It was aid that McMahon’s pitch was not for him to do a match and that he turned the offer down, but the door was left open for creative to come up with a new idea for him and that he wasn’t closed to doing the show.
The WWE offers to TNA talent have generally been the usual NXT level deals that range from $35,000 to $75,000, depending on the person. For those earmarked by WWE as NXT guys, as that’s the general salary range, with the few outliers like the bigger stars in the brand.
Obviously, the ones WWE really wanted badly and had to top existing offers like a Doc Gallows or a Karl Anderson would not fall into that range. Given they topped the TNA offer for Anderson, I have to think they wouldn’t want Anderson in NXT for very long. The signing of Finn Balor opened the door for a few people getting solid deals for NXT
An interesting note that is beginners promo classes, the wrestlers are broken down into these groups: “Girls,” (you’d think they’d use women as a public company), “Teams” (only two of them), “Big Men” (all those giant recruits including Mada and Josh from Tough Enough), “Smaller Athletes,” (which includes everyone from Patrick Clark to Richard Swann to Christopher Girard/Biff Busick), “Foreign Accent” and “Character” (only one guy is in that category, ZZ)
Matt Hardy Heel Turn
The Matt Hardy turn was really well done. It was a show long angle which started with Jeff Hardy doing an interview where he just had this feeling something wasn’t right and didn’t like the idea of Matt risking his TNA career.
Matt is very much hands on with all of his angles, and agent Shane Helms is responsible for a lot of the detail work on this one.
Feast or Fired
On the 1/26 Impact show, they had the Feast or Fired briefcase reveals, which were predictable in the results. The segments are done well with all the drama, although you always know that the first two people they go to aren’t going to be fired. So when they went with Eli Drake first, there was no chance he was being fired. He won a King of the Mountain title match. Then James Storm won a tag team title match, which makes sense since the Wolves vs. Beer Money for the belts is an obvious program, and the Wolves had already talked up a potential match on interviews. This left Drew Galloway and Grado, with one getting a world title shot and the other being fired.
At this point, there wasn’t much of a doubt what would happen. So it sets up Matt Hardy vs. Galloway down the line, and Grado is gone. One would have thought they could have done the Battle Royal and the reveal in the U.K., so they could at least fire Grado after the U.K. tour instead of before