Week in Wrestling #47
Wrestling News From the week of
July 16th - July 29th, 2016
Brand Split Week 1
The first week of the brand split was filled with attempts to showcase wrestling and please the fans, as Raw and Smackdown were both built around higher quality wrestling. Both shows had themes of establishing new top babyfaces, Balor on Raw, and Dolph Ziggler on Smackdown.
There is no question that after the Draft, the main talk was about how stacked the Raw roster was compared to the Smackdown roster. From the start, Raw got the first pick in every round, just because, well, for no reason. The explanation was that Raw needed more talent to fill three hours, although with it also being the exclusive home of the cruiserweights when that gets going, that really didn’t make sense either.
At Battleground, neither Seth Rollins pr Roman Reigns were able to capture the WWE Title from Dean Ambrose and bring it to Raw. So on Raw, Stephanie and Mick Foley set up two four way matches for the show, and the winners would face off in the main event. That winner would go on to face Seth Rollins at Summerslam for the newly created Universal championship.
Immediately, the obvious choice to all was clearly Roman Reigns. But in a pleasant surprise, after winning a four-way earlier in the show, Reigns was pinned again clean in the middle of the ring by Finn Balor, in the attempt to make Balor an instant superstar. Balor didn't need a lot of help because in his first Raw appearance, he was from the start easily the most popular performer on the show.
The decision was also to move the Sasha Banks title win over Charlotte from SummerSlam to Raw this past week, and it's likely they'll be rematched at SummerSlam. The match was fantastic.
Raw, coming the day after Battleground, did a 2.36 rating and 3,334,000 viewers (1.50 viewers per home), an increase of seven percent in both ratings and viewers from the prior week. The show was far stronger than usual, built around making Finn Balor into the top babyface on the Raw brand in one night. For a comparison, the show the day after Money in the Bank, the last PPV, did a 2.44 rating and 3,467,000 viewers.
The audience remained steady for all three hours in most of the demos, with the 8 p.m. hour doing 3,350,000 viewers, the 9 p.m. hour doing 3,412,000 viewers and the 10 p.m. hour doing 3,254,000 viewers.
Smackdown was not as well received as Raw, nor did the main event strike the impact that Raws did. Dolph Ziggler has been around for years, and is also years past the peak of his popularity. For whatever reason, after losing a feud to Baron Corbin, the decision was made for him to pin A.J. Styles (who also lost twice over the weekend), and be challenging for what should be the main singles title in one of the top SummerSlam bouts.
The Smackdown side lacks even more depth, as from the way things look, Wyatt, Ziggler, Miz and Corbin are going to be featured. Ryder & Rawley could be put together as the Hype Bros team to balance out the Smackdown roster. There’s also room, particularly on Smackdown, for more C enhancement talent, where star heels from the past could be brought in for television and prelim spots on arena shows.
While Jordan & Gable should be the top team, unless they do an Usos turn (which imbalances the sides and would seem to require a responding turn, and really The Ascension, Breeze & Fandango and the Vaudevillains would mean little as faces or heels), they’ve got nobody to work with that the audience cares about. The women side is more limiting as Naomi, Bliss or Eva Marie would likely have to turn to balance out the sides.
The first new-era pure Smackdown show on 7/26 did a 1.92 rating 2,743,000 viewers (1.52 viewers per home), right at the same number the show was getting when it first started on USA in January before the fade. In fact, the number was almost identical as the first Thursday night Smackdown show on USA did a 1.93 rating and 2,759,000 viewers.
If they can maintain this number, or really any number above 2.4 million, then they are doing well. The key from here is to avoid the fade that the show had, particularly after WrestleMania.
SummerSlam's top two matches changed greatly from the original ideas. Now, it'll be Rollins vs. Balor for the creation of the new WWE Universal championship, the main belt on Raw, and Ambrose vs. Ziggler for the existing WWE world title.
Putting Ziggler and Balor in the two title matches at SummerSlam would have never happened in the PPV era. The reality is from a financial standpoint, you can put almost anyone there and it's not going to make a difference with the network number, and SummerSlam sold out instantly before any matches were announced. The third main match is Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton.
It appears that A.J. Styles and John Cena will continue their program after Cena pinned Styles, instead of Karl Anderson or Doc Gallows, to win a six-man tag at Battleground. It kind of makes no sense for Cena to get a pin on Styles right now, as the first win should be in a singles match later in the program. I guess they still have the feeling that if Cena loses, he needs to get the win back immediately. It's not exactly clear where Reigns fits in. Orton was told he was being set up for a win with Styles. The New Day vs. Wyatts is already done, with the heels winning the PPV match and the split brand not allowing any revenge. The New Day is moving on to a tag team title program with Anderson & Gallows.
Battleground drew a sellout of 13,500 fans to the Verizon Center. The show was good overall, carried by two excellent matches, a Sami Zayn win over Kevin Owens and the three-way battle of The Shield.
Reigns, after returning over the weekend from a failed drug test, was still booed heavily, so the idea that Seth Rollins harping on his failure would get him sympathy from the audience didn't take, as few thought it would. Reigns was pinned by Dean Ambrose in the three-way as well.
Bayley ended up as Banks' mystery partner at Battleground, and got one of the biggest reactions on the show. It was a one-time thing but it's pretty clear she'll be up relatively soon, the question being if she'll be with Charlotte and Banks, the two most pushed women stars, or used to shore up the relatively weaker Smackdown women's roster.
Brock Lesnar not Drug Tested
After failing two USADA tests for clomiphene, a banned substance used by athletes largely for help in getting a body's natural production of testosterone back to normal after a steroid cycle, WWE officials have confirmed that not only will Brock Lesnar not be suspended, but that Lesnar is not even subject to the WWE's own Wellness policy.
Those at WWE confirmed Lesnar has not been tested at any time, something that has led to some WWE performers who are aware of this claiming a double standard, which, as it turned out, has been the case for some time and isn't limited to Lesnar, but is something the company never revealed until this past week.
This led to media reports from a number of places in the U.S. as well as internationally mocking the logic where Lesnar, the second highest paid performer on the roster, isn't subject to the drug testing that almost everyone else it.
At some point a few years ago, WWE quietly made changes in the Wellness policy, changing the wording for the program in at least some places (the wording of the program on the corporate web site was not changed). The Wellness policy only applies to regular full-time wrestlers. The loophole which means performers like Lesnar, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Levesque and Mark Calaway aren't subject to the same program as the rest of the talent.
The company defended the policy by stating that the policy was designed to keep talent healthy that is performing on the road regularly, up to 200 matches per year because of the nature of the business. Lesnar's contract is only for a handful of matches each year. The claim is that it is not a sport, so rules about cheating to win as PED usage in sports would include, aren't germane to the product. If you look at the most shallow level, that would be true. But with about 20 seconds of thought, it makes no sense at all. WWE is very competitive, not as far as wins and losses, but as far as roster spots.
There are far fewer spots on a WWE roster than in any major sports league. And unlike in sports, where you are judged on your performance in doing the sport and not how you look, in wrestling, cosmetic looks, which are very influenced by PED usage, gives one more of a competitive advantage than in a real sport. Besides, there is probably no real sport that has had the kind of health issues and young deaths that pro wrestling used to have before this program was put in place.
Had Lesnar not had the loophole built into his deal, Lesnar would have been for the outside test failure, at least based on company precedent, although not absolutely because of the star power issue.
Lesnar will return to WWE television on the 8/1 Raw from Atlanta. WWE officials had previously stated he would return at SummerSlam on 8/21 in Brooklyn against Randy Orton. He is also booked on the 8/15 Raw in Corpus Christi.
Integrity of the Wellness Policy
While no performer in WWE is likely to publicly address the subject, because of the fear of calling attention to it, those aware privately called it a double standard. The key is that the part-timers are already far better paid than all but the top tier of full-timers, and then get the advantage of being able to have a better physical look just because they have more time to rest and train to begin with, but now get an even bigger advantage in that department because if they should choose to use PEDs, there is no fear of testing that the rest of the roster has.
Over the last 30 years, PED usage on its own has almost surely helped far more careers by percentage than in actual major competitive sports, at least in WWF.
There was a time, and that time is now over, where WWE wrestlers were judged first and foremost on their bodies. In recent years, the emphasis on bodies being the key point in determining a push has changed, but it is still a factor. You put Brock Lesnar's overall ability in a Kevin Owens' body and he would never be pushed at the level he is. You put Lesnar's body on a Kevin Owens, and he would be the top guy in the company today, making millions of dollars. But unlike in the past, where a guy like Owens would have been dismissed from a big push because of his physique, today, if you are good enough at talking and working, you can be a major star without a great body. That only puts the competition in pro wrestling at the same level as most other sports, because if you can perform in a real sport, the fact you don't use steroids or don't have a great physique means almost nothing.
If the goal is lowering the high death rate of wrestlers, the program appears to have been very successful. But it's hard to know whether it's the program or changes in those who are in the profession, because both are probably factors and you can't isolate them to prove one or the other or a percentage of each.
NXT Call Ups
Regarding NXT, there will be another round of call-ups in the fall. Clearly Bailey would be on that list. But one has to wonder if the Smackdown roster will get beefed up by the additions of guys like Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Asuka, and Bobby Roode.
Rumored WWE Signings
Looks like Nikki Bella got good news regarding her checkup on how her neck is healing from surgery. She's started training at the Performance Center to return.
Alberto Del Rio May be leaving
Regarding Del Rio, there has been talk from a few weeks back that he's got an out clause from his deal in September. TNA has had a lot of interest in him. He's making big money but they aren't doing anything with him and he can make big money working Mexico and Lucha Underground or Mexico and/or TNA and have a lesser schedule. He wouldn't be able to make the same money and when he was in India doing P.R. work for WWE he kind of put down TNA.
Big Show vs Shaq at Wrestlemania
The WWE did what appeared to be its first angle for WrestleMania 33 in Orlando with a red carpet confrontation between Big Show and Shaquille O’Neal at the ESPY awards in Los Angeles on 7/13.
The angle has been talked about for years, and they had a quick confrontation in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania in Dallas where O’Neal appeared unannounced. With WrestleMania being in Orlando, and O’Neal spent the early part of his career in the NBA with the Magic, it makes sense. The one thing notable in the confrontation was how O’Neal appeared to tower over Show, looking several inches taller. O’Neal was billed at 7-foot-1, and he always looked to be about two inches taller than Show when they have been together in the past, but now the difference appeared far more marked.
Roman Reigns Drug Failure
The word going around the locker room from multiple sources is that Reigns tested positive for Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD, but can also be used as a mild performance enhancer (and cognitive enhancer in other professions) as well as a party drug. This isn’t official given that WWE doesn’t release what a performer fails for, and the performers themselves are strongly encouraged not to publicly talk about it and just take their punishment. At this stage of the game, they really should reveal what the positive tests are for just to avoid the rampant speculation that comes out given the nature of coverage
Paul Heyman had not signed a new deal with WWE. It had widely been expected Heyman would be back and there had been no hurry for him to sign since he wasn't going to appear on television until Lesnar returned. Heyman was not shown in the graphic, nor was his name mentioned, when Lesnar's return this coming week was plugged. It is also possible he could appear this coming week without a contract, but he is no advertised.
TNA Sale Rumors.... Again
There had been talk that a sale was imminent. The company barely got the tapings done in June and wouldn’t have been able to without the money Billy Corgan put in.
Dixie Carter actually was only at the first day of the last set of tapings, and did all of her stuff for all the shows on that day before leaving to go on a Safari vacation in Africa. Billy Corgan also wasn't at the tapings, although he's a legit music star so can't be at every show.
Since she is the key point person, nothing is likely to be taking place as far as a significant change during that time.
TNA Bound for Glory
Bound for Glory was moved from 9/11 to 10/2, and will be held at Universal in Orlando, as opposed to an arena. Bobby Lashley vs. Ethan Carter III will headline. As noted, the date was moved when WWE decided to add PPVs and picked 9/11 as the date.
Bobby Lashley is now both TNA & X Division champion in beating Eddie Edwards in the cage match on the 7/21 TV show. One would think there should be another Matt vs. Jeff Hardy heavy stip match on that show.
To save money and get all the tapings done before Bound for Glory, the August set of tapings has been extended. They will be taping from 8/11 to 8/17, which will be Impact, One Night Only and assorted other stuff. They'll tape on six of those seven days and have one day off the way things are scheduled now. They'll probably tape again starting around 10/3 with everyone in for Bound for Glory, and won't have to tape in September, as the original idea was to start taping on 9/11.
Jeff Hardy was saying over the weekend that his contract expires in February. He’s made it clear in interviews he’d go back to WWE if they wanted him.
Jeff noted in a story in Los Angeles Weekly that they are working on a sequel to Final Deletion called Final Liquidation. "We have so many outrageous ideas," Jeff said. As noted, Hardy's contract expires in February and he openly has said he'd like to end his career in WWE, but said he was not willing to work a WWE full-time schedule and was having fun in TNA and would have no qualms about spending the rest of his career there. He said his goal would be to end his career at WrestleMania in a Hell in a Cell match with Undertaker. He wants to do a swanton off the top of the call onto the announcers table. He also wants to do a swanton through the cage, miss and then get pinned after a tombstone.
ROH Final Battle
The last major show of the year, Final Battle, on 12/2, will be the company’s return to the Hammerstein Ballroom. Usually that’s the last show of the year but this year they are doing a show also on 12/4 at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. Tickets are moving well for Final Battle, and right now they are at the pace to sell out the 1,800-seat building well in advance.
Cody Rhodes’ debut will be at the Final Battle show.
Will Ospreay Update
While there are reports of Will Ospreay’s signing with Evolve and it would keep him away from working for ROH, those who have spoken with Ospreay said on 7/20 that he had not signed with Evolve and he was still in communication with ROH as late as that date as far as working there for potential dates. Both Evolve and ROH have attempted to get Ospreay to work in the U.S. in between New Japan tours. Ospreay is under contract to New Japan until April 2018
Wrestling and MMA Podcast
Wrestling and MMA are dominating the sports podcasting world. Out of the top 20 sports podcasts, the listings has Brendan Schaub's "Fighter and the Kid" show at No. 6, UFC Unfiltered with Jim Norton and Matt Serra at No. 7, the Jim Cornette Experience on MLW at No. 11, The Ric Flair Show on MLW Radio at No. 13, Talk is Jericho at No. 15, Bischoff on Wrestling at No. 17 (this is a new one), Bauer & Pollock on MLW Radio at No. 18, The Steve Austin show at No. 19 and MSL & Kevin Sullivan on MLW Radio at No. 20.