Week in Wrestling #41
Wrestling News From the week of
May 28th - June 3rd, 2016
Brand Split Update
The preliminary idea is for Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins to be the top face and heel on the Raw side, and Cena and A.J. Styles to be the top face and heel on the Smackdown side. Yet, there is advertising out that indicates that plan to be switched, which really would be a mistake because Smackdown needs the help. Reigns on top is not the guy they need as the face of a brand that desperately needs to improve ratings.
For what it’s worth, and probably not much at this point, the first live Smackdown is 7/19 from Worcester, and the names that were listed in advertising on 5/31 were Dean Ambrose, Chris Jericho, Styles, Kevin Owens, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. They received an updated advertising list on 6/1 that listed a Reigns vs. Rollins main event, and Ambrose on the show. Then again, they could also go with the idea that the brands won’t split up for a week or two after the first live Smackdown on 7/19.
Advertising for an 8/23 Smackdown brand show at the Mohegan Sun Casino lists Styles, New Day and Cesaro. The key here is that, aside from Cena and Reigns, it appears (based on these two ads being consistent and several other things we’ve heard), that Styles would be one of the top stars on the Smackdown brand; I’m not sure anything is definite.
Everything can and will be changed before the actual final decisions are announced. For example, back in March, the WWE marketing department was given info for doing graphic ads, and while nobody was told that there would be a brand split, they were told who to feature on ads. Additionally, they were entirely different crews which gave the idea a split was under consideration.
In Glasgow, Scotland, where they are doing TV tapings at the Hydro on 11/7 and 11/8, WWE informed the building, this past week, that the stars of Raw would be Owens, Sheamus, Charlotte, Orton, Sasha Banks, Cesaro, Rusev and Ziggler, and that the stars of Smackdown would be Reigns, Styles, Wyatt, New Day and Becky Lynch.
Corey Graves has teased on Twitter the idea that he would be joining the Smackdown announcing team when it moves to Tuesday. That would at least give them the “A” team with Mauro Ranallo and the revitalized Jerry Lawler, while Byron Saxton would be exclusive to Raw. The belief is that they will also be splitting the referee crew up, but that is not official.
There is still nothing decided regarding the tag team and women’s title. Having two belts would be overkill, but that is what they did with separate brands in the past. Having all the tag teams on one show and all the women on the other does not make sense.
The rosters are interesting, because you have couples involved, such as Jimmy Uso and Naomi, Cena and Nikki Bella, Rusev and Lana, Del Rio and Paige and Zack Ryder and Emma (although Emma won’t be back after back surgery for several months). Then there is the money situation. Since talent is paid based on the house, talent on Raw will have significant advantages in making money. Not only does the Raw name mean more as far as selling tickets, but the Monday Raw tapings are, along with PPVs, the only shows that frequently sell out, or draw in excess of 10,000 people. Smackdown generally draws for TV tapings half, if not less than half, of what Raw does. Plus, Smackdown has the Monday house show that is almost a lock to struggle, and doesn’t run Friday, which is the second best day behind Saturday to draw.
On the flip side, older wrestlers, particularly those with high school aged kids (since so many of the sons of wrestlers end up playing high school football or high school wrestling), may want Fridays off of the Smackdown schedule so they can go see their kids sporting events.
When looking at the roster, this is something of a breakdown of stars at different levels, which should be split up. Keep in mind, that while most of the positioning is obvious, some are debatable. As things stand, this is what we have:
A level babyfaces:
A level heels:
B level babyfaces
B level heels:
C level heels:
C level babyfaces:
D level heels:
Is Bill Goldberg coming to WWE became the big question after his appearance in the first WWE 2K17 video game commercial which aired on 5/30.
Goldberg, 49, was in a commercial surrounded by security people, and with his old WCW entrance music. Goldberg was approved by Vince McMahon this year to be the star outside character in the game, which comes out in October. The deal would include Goldberg being involved in the promotion of the game.
This is a deal where people are very closed-mouthed, because it was meant to be the big surprise which WWE teased on social media as the “hatch” in the days leading to Raw. Goldberg was first approached several years ago, and has been in video games in the past, but not as a central heavily-promoted character and the major special attraction with all the marketing behind. Goldberg and 2K had been negotiating this deal for a few months, although Goldberg’s talks with the video game people for this position have been on-and-off for several years. The actual deal was agreed to about three weeks ago, and both sides were told to keep it a secret until the commercial aired, which was supposed to be the big surprise that had been promised on the show.
According to multiple sources close to the situation, Goldberg does not have a WWE deal right now. But everyone notes the history, that when the video game people reached deals with Brock Lesnar, Ultimate Warrior and Sting in recent years, all three ended up with the person in question later making a deal with WWE.
The Goldberg deal took several years to put together, with the holdup on Vince McMahon’s side. McMahon and Goldberg did not leave on good terms in 2004 when Goldberg’s one-year contract with the promotion for $1 million and limited dates expired.
Still, the 2013 Goldberg DVD was a huge seller for WWE, bigger than any DVD WWE had released in recent years, other than the annual WrestleMania, even though it had limited promotion. It shows that Goldberg’s name remained strong with fans. For years, fans would chant for Goldberg during Ryback’s matches, to the point that people were thinking Goldberg vs. Ryback was a natural for a WrestleMania.
However, the two sides were never close in any talks. Goldberg himself, who attributed past issues to things that have been put aside and that they are on the same page, said he’s had limited contact with WWE in recent years, and while there have been conversations, they never were to the point of being close to serious about his returning. HHH, who had his own issues in the past with Goldberg, also said publicly, when asked in the past, that he didn’t think Goldberg was a Hall of Famer, but that could change given the limited number of Hall of Fame headliners left.
Still, Goldberg is the last of the golden carrots they can get to return. And he is willing to return, but noted that, physically, at his age he can’t be the 300 pound monster he was in the past. He said he is significantly lighter and has trained for cardio through doing Muay Thai, and if he was to wrestle, would have to put on weight. Goldberg has always asked for significant money for appearances and for matches, which is why all talks of him, whether they be wrestling or fighting, have never culminated in anything, and his appearances are limited.
The commercial was put together to tease a Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar confrontation, as in the background at the end of the commercial, there is a Suplex City street sign. Goldberg said that a day doesn’t go by where he doesn’t think about doing a match with Lesnar.
Cody Runnels has gotten the rights to use the Cody Rhodes name and has gotten the okay from WWE to start taking indie dates on 8/19. The key is what, if any, restrictions have been put on him as far as appearing for television promotions (ROH and TNA) as WWE traditionally has no issues with guys earning a living, and sometimes even using their WWE names, but if it’s ROH and/or TNA, that becomes different.
We do know that he has the right to work in ROH. Because he started using the name Cody Rhodes while under a WWE contract (he started his career with a WWE developmental deal and this is the first time since his career started he’s not working for the company), and they had trademarked the name, the name issue could have been dicey. The flip side is that the Rhodes name for his family dates back to 1968 with his father and 1988 for his brother. If they wanted to go to court on it, Cody is probably winning that one. You can argue it’s an iconic pro wrestling family name that WWE could not own the rights to since the name was made outside WWE for decades. In the court of real life right and wrong, I’d strongly back that argument and evidently WWE isn’t fighting him on it.
On Twitter, he put out a bucket list of sorts of what he wants to do after 8/19 with a bunch of names, that he seemingly wants to wrestle, listing Adam Cole, Dalton Castle, Kurt Angle, Chris Hero, “The Miracle” (Mike Bennett), Moose, Pat Buck (a Northeastern indie wrestler who he would know since both were in OVW at the start of their careers at the same time), Young Bucks, Trevor Lee, Katsuyori Shibata and Roderick Strong. Other things listed on his bucket list included BOLA (the PWG Battle of Los Angeles tournament at the end of August), “the streamers thing” (which would indicate ROH or a Japanese group where they do streamers, because they don’t do that in New Japan), and “Personal ring announcer,” which may indicate using his wife as a ring announcer.
We’re told that the list is real and he’s asked those he’s working with in handling his bookings, to get matches with as many of those people as possible and as soon as possible. Right now, according to those close to the situation, he’s adamant about showing everyone what he thinks he can do. Nothing is official, but it’s looking like he wants something where he can freelance indies but also work the ROH/New Japan combination.
Roderick Strong and Moose’s deals are up in a few weeks but I don’t believe that, officially, they are allowed to negotiate with other companies yet. Of course this is pro wrestling and you know how that goes. WWE had interest in Moose last year and logic would tell you it shouldn’t be different, considering he’s improved a lot, his name is bigger, and WWE needs to be adding talent right now.
Summerslam Weekend NXT
One of the weirdest stories that had a lot of people nervous was WWE and Ticketmaster both pulling the NXT special scheduled for SummerSlam weekend at the Barclays Center from the schedule. However, the next day, WWE officials told us that the show was still on and that it was just changes in the graphics and logo that caused the show to be pulled from the listings. I still don’t understand why the show was pulled from WWE’s web site.
A few days earlier, WWE teased that the name of the 6/8 NXT special from Full Sail University is “The End,” with Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor in a cage match, Nakamura vs. Austin Aries, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable vs. Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder for the tag titles and Asuka vs. Nia Jax for the women’s title. The presumption was that Joe vs. Balor means the cage match is the end of their program. But with the brand extension, and nobody knowing anything and things being secretive, some fans and even NXT talent was concerned. Keeping talent in the dark meant people got worried and jumped to conclusions.
There was an issue regarding a Cena T-shirt that was supposed to debut this week. The new Hustle, Loyalty, Respect shirt had a design similar to the insignia of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. The Pabst people immediately got a cease and desist order against the shirt, and went to social media saying, “A message to John Cena and the WWE, we have a chokehold called the Cease & Desist. Pretty sure we see you.”
The WWE then pulled the T-shirt and have already replaced it with a new design for a somewhat similar Cena shirt. While WWE told Pro Wrestling Sheet that they believed they would be able to win a legal fight based on fair use, they said that they respect others intellectual property and have decided not to go forward with the item.
A.J. Lee Autobiography
The former A.J. Lee, now April Brooks, noted on Twitter that she has just finished her autobiography. She wrote, “Just finished my book. No co-writer. No ghost writer. Just me, lots of carbs and an adorably evil mind.” Crown Archetype of Penguin Random House is behind the book which is scheduled for release this coming spring.
Rusev and Lana Wedding
The Rusev and Lana wedding, actually Miroslav and Catherine, will be on 9/2. It would be almost a lock that their wedding would air on Total Divas since that show, aimed at the women’s audience, is all about engagements and marriages.
The Slammiversary show on 6/12 from Universal Studios in Orlando will feature Drew Galloway defending the TNA title against Bobby Lashley in a match with no pins, and can only be won via knockout or submission; Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy in a Full Metal Mayhem (TLC and other metal weapons) match; Abyss & Crazzy Steve vs. Robbie E & Jessie Godderz for the tag titles (Raquel will manage The Bro Mans to counteract Rosemary); Ethan Carter III vs. Mike Bennett and Gail Kim vs. Maria Kanellis.
Ricochet vs Ospreay Outrage
New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament got a major viral reaction when a GIF of the 5/27 Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay match spread across social media.
The match contained moves, spots and acrobatics, along with hard hitting strikes and innovative wrestling moves. For whatever reason, probably the simultaneous flips spot very early in the match, there was some negativity from some old school wrestling fans and former wrestlers.
Vader wrote, “Blatant acrobatics, no story, is there anything done in this video that relates to winning. You could get two high school gymnasts and put on a show.” “I understand how wrestling evolves. Been doing for 40 years around the world, titles in Europe, Mexico, USA. I’m all for wrestling evolving as long as it stays consistent with someone winning and someone losing. Tell that story. Demonstrate that.”
New Japan World, sensing the interest, released the match on its service for free on 5/31, as an attempt to get attention for the service with all the big shows coming up over the next three weeks.
Everyone has the right to like what they like and dislike what they like. The business is not about adhering to strict rules, because it’s the variance that gains attention, which is often the key to getting over and sometimes, even growth. The concept of working matches to draw money was very valid in the '70s and '80s, when you were doing television and arena shows to build programs to come back weekly.
The knock on this match, for that reason, makes no sense. Ricochet and Ospreay are two wrestlers who are not singles main eventers in New Japan. They aren’t booked as drawing cards. They were put in the main event on 5/27 with the belief that, because of their ability, they could tear the house down. This was not a case of two guys already over as big-time headliners, who came in with that benefit. There wasn't any grudge match, hatred, or promos to set the stage. Arguments from people who talk about the heat they would get on top, without doing that, negates that these guys weren’t booked that way; and they still tore down the house after a night where some of the most talented people in the business had worked underneath.
NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Tournament
Here are the current standings going into the 6/2 show in Nagoya:
A block: 1. Matt Sydal and Ryusuke Taguchi 4-1 (Taguchi would technically be in first place because he beat Sydal during the tournament which is the tiebreaker); 3. Kyle O’Reilly and Kushida 3-2; 5. Rocky Romero and Bushi 2-3; 7. David Finlay and Gedo 1-4.
B block: 1. Ricochet 3-1; 2. Bobby Fish, Volador Jr., Jushin Liger, Chase Owens, Trent Baretta and Tiger Mask 8. Will Ospreay 1-3.
I wouldn’t put too much stock into these standings being a predictor. In the A block, O’Reilly, Kushida, Taguchi and perhaps Bushi have a shot at going to the final. Kushida would be there to lose, because the tournament is to create a contender for him at Dominion on 6/19. O’Reilly went to the finals last year and lost a great one. As far as the B block goes, I sense it’s between Ricochet and Ospreay. If you look at the standings, you’d then favor Ricochet, but with the way they book, the actual favorite should be Ospreay, because he’s been losing matches he should have won so far; I can sense that he wins the rest, goes 4-3, and that with he and Ricochet perhaps tied, he’d go to the final based on his win over Ricochet. There was a reason that was a featured match and a main event at Korakuen Hall, even before the acclaim.
This is how the rest of the tournament and shows stack up:
6/2 in Nagoya (this will be a taped show on New Japan World up later that day with only the tournament matches): Volador Jr. vs. Owens; Liger vs. Tiger Mask; Ospreay vs. Fish; Ricochet vs. Baretta.
6/3 at Korakuen Hall (live on New Japan World at 5:30 a.m. Eastern time): Volador Jr. & Ricochet & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Baretta & Ospreay; Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Katsuyori Shibata & Juice Robinson & Jay White & Fish; Finlay vs. O’Reilly; Romero vs. Gedo; Satoshi Kojima & Michael Elgin & Yoshitatsu & Captain New Japan vs. Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi & Owens; Kazuchika Okada & Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Tetsuya Naito & Seiya Sanada & Evil; Taguchi vs. Bushi; Kushida vs. Sydal.
6/5 in Gunma (live on New Japan World at 3 a.m. Eastern time): Taguchi & White vs. Yoshi-Hashi & Romero, Nagata & Tenzan & Nakanishi & Finlay & O’Reilly vs. Shibata & Kushida & Robinson & Captain New Japan & Sydal; Tiger Mask vs. Baretta; Ospreay vs. Liger; Fish vs. Owens; Ricochet vs. Volador Jr.; Kojima & Elgin & Yoshitatsu vs. Omega & Fale & Takahashi; Okada & Goto & Ishii & Gedo vs. Naito & Sanada & Evil & Bushi.
6/6 in Sendai at the Sun Plaza Hall (live on New Japan World at 5:30 a.m.): Okada & Goto & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Naito & Sanada & Evil; Volador Jr. Vs. Ospreay; Ricochet vs. Owens; Fish vs. Tiger Mask; Liger vs. Baretta; Sydal vs. Finlay; O’Reilly vs. Romero; Taguchi vs. Gedo; Kushida vs. Bushi.
Obviously this is booked for many people still being alive going into the 6/6 show, and it will take twists and turns to determine the winners of each block.
The finals, with the two block winners, are live at 5:30 a.m. Eastern on New Japan World on 6/7. The last two nights will be broadcast in English.
TNA POP TV Talk
In the interview Mike Johnson did with Brad Schwartz of Pop TV, TNA did not set up the interview. He said that TNA wasn’t even aware the interview was being done until after it was completed. Another note is that Pop TV does have a staggered feed on the West Coast so if you have cable and Pop is on the cable, Impact does air at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. It’s only if you have DirecTV or Dish where it doesn’t air in prime time. The weird thing is that I never heard from one person on the West Coast who was aware of that. Schwartz’s comments regarding not putting TNA in the upfronts was because he claimed TNA and Pop hired a third party to handle the ad sales for TNA due to the different demographics and claimed they didn’t list TNA in the upfronts for the new season because their own ad team didn’t handle the ad sales.