Working The Loop (07/21/2019)

CMLL

Jushin “Thunder” Liger just finished up his last show at Arena Mexico this week, and it was a pretty big spectacle. Not to say that their shows aren’t always special, as you get to see some of the best wrestling in the world week in and week out at the same venue, which is a rarity these days, but CMLL went out of their way to make Jushin’s last match really amazing.

It’s really strange to think that Jushin “Thunder” Liger will no longer be wrestling after this year. I have grown up watching a lot of his matches. When I think about it, his match against Flyin’ Brian Pillman is probably one of the first matches I have seen that had a Japanese wrestler in it. It would be either him or The Great Muta.

He’s had an amazing career, and I am so glad that CMLL gave him such a great send-off. They brought out their dancers and had Asian drums that looked really cool, and for a guy like Liger, who is so original and so insane, it was really appropriate. Now that the months are winding down, you should really appreciate these moments like this, because they won’t be around much longer.

As for the rest of the show, it was decent. I haven’t watched an Arena Mexico show on Friday night in a long time, but this was one of the decent ones. I really liked the Rush and L.A. Park brawl. L.A. Park does the Brody gimmick so well, and he always puts on a good show. Mistico is also one of those guys who always put on a good show when I see him. The rest of the card isn’t too bad, and I would say that checking out Arena Mexico weekly should be included in a lot of wrestling fans schedule. Even if you don’t speak the language, you can still pick up on a lot of what is going on. Some things can be a little jarring at first, like the 2 out of 3 falls aspect, but you get used to it after a while and you get to see some really amazing stuff.

Back to the L.A. Park match, Rush started working on his mask during the show, and it may be a set up for a match for a mask vs. hair match with Rush at some time. Park had been floating the idea of putting up his mask for a while, even setting up an angle some time ago that never came to fruition. He probably has the highest asking price in Mexico for his mask, so with him getting up there in age, I wouldn’t blame him for cashing in on that right now.

The main event was Liger, Negro Casas, who is also up there in age but looks great, Carístico, and Último Guerrero. It wasn’t the greatest match, but the theatre and the atmosphere surrounding it was really something to see. If you haven’t seen a CMLL show, especially a Friday night show, this would be the one I would suggest you watch to let yourself get into the product, because at least you get to see Liger’s last time there and you also get to see how the wrestlers set up for some angles in Mexico regarding their masks, which are highly regarded.

NJPW

We now sit one third through the G1 Climax for 2019, and we have had some amazing matches along the way this week. Really, this year differs from years past, because there is more of an emphasis on stories rather than insane match quality on its own. While this may be a bit weaker with the amount of really great matches in it, and I mean a tiny bit, it has made up for it by telling a different story every time. Everyone does their part and gets over the little things that make all of these matches come across great, and Kevin Kelly has done a great job on expanding upon those issues as well.

I don’t know if you can find a better production than New Japan in that aspect. While the WWE does a great job of making each event seem larger than life and as clean as possible, they really overlook those little stories that could be capitalized on. I guess you could argue that those things don’t matter, and they aren’t the reason why fans buy tickets, but at the same time, we should really try to expect the best product that one company can present to us, we are the ones paying for it. NJPW does a great job of setting themselves apart and presenting an amazing product.

The MVP for the tournament so far has to be Will Ospreay, but Kota Ibushi isn’t far behind. In fact, everyone is really putting on their working boots and giving some impressive performances. But, I can’t stress enough how far Will Ospreay has come in the past year, and he was already among one of the best wrestlers in the world before.

I am going to go in-depth later this week and break down the tournament so far before they come back on Wednesday, but I just want to mention that both Ospreay matches this weekend got 10/10 ratings for me. I make it a point to almost never give out 10 ratings. Those matches seem way too special to be liberal with a rating that is essentially saying, hey, this is one of the best matches I have ever seen, but I can’t deny how much I loved these two matches. I would say the Ibushi one was better in my eyes, but it wasn’t by much. They both told an amazing tale of Will trying to prove that he not just belonged at the top of the card, but could also beat big names in New Japan, and he lost both of them. Even though he still has some way to go on his journey, he has really turned into a legit star in Japan, and his work is really top-njotch. This all was done after fearing that he would miss time due to a neck injury, and they even let that play into the story as well. Just spectacular. Please check out those two matches if you see any this summer.

The funny thing is we aren’t even done with the G1 yet. We still have the rest of the tournament to go through…

CM Punk

Starrcast has announced that CM Punk will be appearing in Chicago for the Memorial Day weekend event. This has really started the rumor mills talking about him possibly making an appearance at AEW that weekend, and a lot of fans are saying that if he doesn’t it may be a huge waste of an opportunity.

Let’s be honest, and I say this as a pretty big Elite fan, this AEW thing has not been perfect. There has been a lot of growing pains, and a lot of people see Punk as the bandaid that would be able to cover that up as best as possible. But, the biggest hurdle and question with this entire thing is Punk. No one really knows where his head is at regarding wrestling. I think people have some ideas, but with all the mystery surrounding it, I wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails on it. Maybe he is in the same boat as well. It is totally realistic to think that CM Punk hasn’t decided if he is going to wrestle for a big promotion again or not.

I think people are going to speculate and unless Punk does show up at All Out, people are going to have the perception that AEW dropped the ball, which I don’t know if that is fair or not. Yes, AEW should sign up any big name like CM Punk they can get, because that is going to be a huge part of where they can go with a mainstream audience, what stars they have, and how big are they. Jericho is one of those types. Having another big, established name that can sell tickets is ideal.

But, one thing that people seem to not realize is that Punk is kind of the only one who can make that decision. It could be that with these lawsuits and court fees his bank account isn’t looking as good as it was years ago, but I would imagine that his commentating gigs pay decent and he isn’t a guy who needs a lot of money. He seems to enjoy time with his family and enough to buy his comic books. The other issue is that wrestling hurts, and it breaks you down. With an older body, it is going to be a lot different when it comes to taking those bumps and bruises.

But hey, he could show up and it would be the biggest thing since Luger showed up at the Mall of America, right?

I guess I would say, just don’t hold your breath, but it would be amazing if it happened.

WWE

It seems like every time I get a look at house show crowds on Twitter, it gets worse every week. With TV starting to slowly turn around, it could cause the crowds to start to turn, but we probably won’t see that for a couple of months. It’s worrisome, with WWE on their way to network television and having this type of excitement level. I would think that wrestling fans would be as excited as I am that we are going to have a product on a station with the biggest visibility in a very long time, and our biggest barometer as far as an American audience, the WWE, is struggling to fill up house shows.

I know house shows have suffered since John Cena stopped working regularly. That, bad luck, and the ignorance of not establishing some stars in the past few years have really impacted live attendance. I would also think that Becky Lynch would have drawn some people in, but she has largely cooled off and I find the reason behind that would be having her involved in really poor booking. She built herself up organically with the crowd, and the way that the WWE has handled the entire thing has been subpar. Don’t get me wrong now. The WrestleMania main event was amazing, but I always felt like Becky should have won her way into the main event rather than Ronda giving it to her. I also felt like the finish being kind of botched and muddled never gave Becky that decisive win over Rousey that she needed to look like she was bigger than life. But there is time. I hope they don’t drop things because of house show attendance. I solely blame how this has all gone down on Vince and creative.

Kevin Owens is being booked how you should book guys like that. Those are the changes that needed to be done. We need a babyface that is likable and relatable sometimes. Kevin doing his “I’m going to tell it like it is and stick it to the boss’s son” program right now is really good. I hope they continue on with things like that. Even if ripping on a McMahon and beating them up has been done so many times that it is no longer fresh, you still like to have some fun while watching wrestling. I felt like a good amount of the past few months didn’t have much fun to WWE programming besides the 24/7 Title.

We’ll keep an eye on this as it continues to develop, but I hope the rumors of guys like Finn Balor getting a shot and with the minor improvements done with the show, we can start seeing returns on those changes and getting a different product that keeps us invested.

Site news

Sendai Girls released their entire show from 07/19 on YouTube, and I am going to be doing a review of it because it is something easy for people to find to watch. That should be posted on Tuesday along with a G1 recap that will get you set up for the remaining part of the tournament. This is going to be a lot of work, but Sendai Girls has been great lately, and I am really excited to see how the rest of the G1 shapes out. The stories this year have really gotten me vested, which isn’t always the case, to be honest.

I have watched every G1 for about 10 years straight, and before that, I watched the finals of years past. This one may be among my favorite. I have seen a lot of people online dunk on this year, and I have had some friends tell me that they think this year is a bit subpar, but I haven’t felt that way. I think I can understand how others see that, and the reasoning is that there is so much good wrestling everywhere, that New Japan doesn’t feel as unique as it did before. That’s totally understandable. I just think this year has some cool stories, and I really can’t wait to see how they all are fleshed out. As for Sendai Girls, Sareee, Meiko Satomura, Chihiro Hashimoto, and DASH Chisako are all tearing it up right now. Please, if you haven’t seen them perform, do a quick search on YouTube and have a fun evening. Anyway, that’s it for this time. See you this week for more Sendai Girls and New Japan coverage.

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Working The Loop 07/17/2019

Ice Ribbon

Yappy, one of the young girls that works for Ice Ribbon, has suffered a broken jaw at their show. Even though I refer to her as a young girl, after some digging I found that she is actually 39, and she is the oldest person on the roster. She hails from the Philippines and has been training for the past three years.

I don’t know if this means that she will be retiring, as 3 months off is not that long, but you also have to figure that as you get older, you probably don’t want to deal with injuries like that regularly. She got kicked in the face by Anou and it looked like she busted her mouth on that spot. I think that was also where her jaw was broken. Here’s hoping she makes a full recovery.

NJPW

Will Ospreay has been announced as being able to compete in his next G1 tournament match. The most unfortunate thing about this event is the toll that it takes on the bodies of the guys working it. They also hold it in such high regard that they always work through the aches and pains, and by the end of it, they are all beat up. One year Kenny Omega wrestled the last part of it with a fractured heel. Also, knowing Ospreay, he isn’t going to slow down for the rest of the G1.

When I was younger, and I think it was a cultural thing in wrestling, I always thought that it was awesome when you heard stories of how tough pro wrestlers were. Nowadays, after seeing so many passes away early or end up with physical problems, I just want them to live happy lives after they retire.

WWE

I know people were pretty disappointed with the direction of things after Sunday, but after this week of television, it looks like we may have some fresh matchups on the horizon. The problem I see with it is still the approach. For one, there was an established rule that once a champion loses their title, they cannot get a rematch. That is why I was confused why Rollins was put into that battle royal, and then he even ended up winning it. So even though it was a roundabout way, and it wasn’t a direct rematch, I still feel like the WWE doesn’t care about continuity. This is the biggest reason why people don’t care about these shows. There is nothing to really invest in, because a couple of weeks or months later, it doesn’t mean anything.

I was also impressed with how they debuted Bray Wyatt and his new look. This is a gimmick that has such great potential, and I hope they finally cash in on that. I had always thought that Bray could be a new Undertaker type of character that they could do really cool stuff with. But, it seems like every time they try, it ends up coming across as corny or hokey. This is probably the darkest iteration of this character, and the way that he has slimmed down and changed his look has put a fresh coat of paint on him. I’m excited for the next couple of weeks of TV before SummerSlam.

UFC

Uriah Faber was able to defeat Ricky Simon last Saturday night in a very convincing fashion, a KO in the first round. There was a lot of questions regarding what he would look like after being temporarily retired. Honestly, it is still hard to gauge. The fight went so fast that I couldn’t tell you that he looked like a contender, especially with guys like Benavidez and Formiga waiting for a shot at the Bantamweight Title. It could have just been a bad night for Simon. But, Uriah called out Cejudo after he won, and I think that maybe the direction they are going with.

There isn’t a lot of certainty on the horizon with the UFC. With ESPN stepping in and covering their PPV services, there isn’t as much pressure to put on big fights that would cause for big buy rates. This is kind of a good thing, because you can put on a more sport-oriented product without worrying about covering costs. ESPN now takes care of that with their TV contract. But, you also don’t know if Connor is going to be back this year, if ever, and you don’t really know what kind of numbers a guy like Khabib Nurmagomedov is going to pull in. Ideally, we can say that the last Connor fight helped put him on the map as a mainstream sports star, but that isn’t what happened with Amanda Nunes when she beat Ronda, so I don’t know if we can speak that soon for him either. So I would think that Cejudo vs. Faber is definitely something that could pop up once Cejudo heals from his injuries. I would assume the UFC would try their best to get that fight, and a Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier fight on the books as soon as they can.

Site Update

There will be my Sendai Girls write up from the 07/07 show coming soon, probably tonight or tomorrow morning at the latest. I will also be doing some write-ups to recap where we stand with the G1 Climax this weekend. There is a write up I have been working on for some time on the year of 1995 in professional wrestling, and I am hoping with the research I have been doing (reading old newsletters and forum posts) it comes out as good as I want it to. Besides that, I will probably try to work on some more show reviews or at least individual matches. There have been a lot of great Joshi matches, as well as some rumblings from Pro Wrestling NOAH and All Japan Pro Wrestling. Besides writing about wrestling, there are other projects that I work on, so I will try to get in as much as I can without feeling burnt out.

The Crazy Wrestling Weekend of 07/13 – 07/14

With expectations being set high going into this past weekend, it was up in the air how things would be when the dust settled. It was a stacked Saturday, with an EVOLVE anniversary card going against an AEW benefit show, mix that in with two New Japan shows that included their annual tournament, the G1 Climax, taking place with a plethora of independent shows and you had a very stacked weekend. I had a lot to watch with some new Joshi promotions I had been getting in to. I made it a point to have New Japan as a priority overall. If I was going to miss anything, it damn sure wasn’t going to be NJPW. But luckily I was able to get in a lot before the end of the weekend.

I wanted to cover the entire weekend at once, and the reasoning behind that was most wrestling fans saw as much as they could. WWE putting the EVOLVE show on the Network was a move that put independent wrestling in front of a lot of new eyeballs. I know people were saying that this wasn’t an indy show, and I suppose you could make a case for that, but I saw a lot of indy guys on that card. I think one mistake, and it wasn’t a big one, because it is on the Network and you want people watching this show, was having two WWE guys work the main event. I don’t care how good it was. I don’t want this sold as a Barely Legal like show if the main event is WWE guys. I could only imagine what the crowd would do in 1997 if that ECW Pay Per View had a main event of Marc Mero vs. Flash Funk.

But was it better than AEW? I would have to lean towards yes. It was presented in a different fashion than a normal WWE Network special. It was an EVOLVE show. They made sure to keep that authentic feel to the show. AEW wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. The main event didn’t deliver, and there were just too many misses. But it wasn’t a bad show. I think I have just set a high expectation for AEW shows and it is hard for them to meet those standards.

The underlying story was how both shows were booked on the same night. Since EVOLVE is probably having their shows being put on the WWE Network very shortly, it looked as if WWE wanted to broadcast it to not just showcase it, but to spite AEW. Kenny Omega took offense and fired off some tweets that played on WWE’s relationship with the Saudi government and ulterior motives for running the show the same day as their benefit show. I don’t blame him for questioning it or even lashing out about it, but it just turned it into an “us vs. them” thing within the fan base, and it got old really quick. The entire conversation is kind of silly, but social media makes things silly.

My opinion on it: of course McMahon did it to spite AEW. He is a spiteful person. You don’t buy out your competition time after time without being a little cutthroat.

Is this wrong? I don’t know. I honestly don’t think so. It is just the way that Vince operates and has operated for years. I think we should just get used to stuff like this and move on from it. The mistake I think that was made was Cody and others continually acknowledging it. That made it come across as being bitter. The focus really should have just stayed on the charity and left it there.

As far as wrestling goes, it was a mixed bag from AEW and pretty solid from EVOLVE. AEW doesn’t have to come up that big, at least to me, yet. They have until television starts, and that is when I feel like they need to get serious. Right now, these are sort of free test shows to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. A lot of stuff doesn’t work. The Librarians gimmick doesn’t really work. It just gets annoying heat, and it does nothing for the wrestlers. Sonny Kiss got no favors having to deal with that gimmick, and that is a guy who could have benefited from a good showing in a singles match.

Brandi Rhodes cutting a promo about being depressed and being buried for her wrestling skills and then coming out and working heel for her match, and babyface for the post-show promo: that doesn’t work. We can’t be told to believe that Brandi isn’t playing wrestler one minute and then see her do that exact thing the next minute. I think she will turn into a great performer if she sticks to it, but we also don’t want to be insulted in the process, especially when you are selling yourself as a smarter alternative to the WWE.

Alex Marvez, and the entire concept of a three-man booth: it’s not working. I don’t even think I have to elaborate on this subject. It’s just not working. Let’s fix it.

There was some good to come out of this show. I loved seeing the preview for Kong vs. Kong. Aja came out for a save for Allie after the Brandi match, and it was an amazing moment all by itself. I would guess that the match is going to take place on Pay Per View, and I wonder if it will be a tag or a singles match. From what I’ve read, Awesome Kong is pretty busted up these days, and she has been wanting to focus more on her acting after being on GLOW. But this is a match that wrestling fans have wanted for a long time.

The emphasis on Japanese Women’s wrestling as a whole is a plus for me. I love women’s wrestling in general, but Joshi wrestling has always had a soft spot in my heart, and seeing women like Riho and Nakajima go out there and wow audiences with their skill is something that makes me happy with what AEW is doing. You can tell that Kenny has a lot of say in how the women are booked, and he has always revered his Japanese female counterparts.

The wrestling was also amazing. Sammy Guevara and Luchasaurus came out and showed why they have a spot for a company on national TV. MJF has a star presence that few in the business can capture as well as he does, and he isn’t even twenty-five yet.

As for EVOLVE, the entire show was pretty good, and there wasn’t too much I had to complain about besides the WWE guys working at the top. This is something that is not new for them. They have had other shows with NXT or WWE guys there. A lot of those guys did go through there and work, with Bryan, McIntyre, and Gargano sticking out specifically. I’m sure it was great for them to go back to their old stomping ground and lend a helping hand for their anniversary show. Also, if this is what the premium tier of the network is going to bring, then I am all for it. I would gladly pay $15 a month for the tape library, WWE and EVOLVE Pay Per Views, especially if you threw in some ICW and wXw.

As we are getting short for space and we still have to cover the G1 Climax as well as Extreme Rules, I am going to say that you should check out Shotzi Blackheart vs. Brandi Lauren in their No DQ match. Those two stole the show, and that is saying something when you look at the talent that was there that night.

Moving on…

The G1 Climax 29 has not disappointed at all. This really has been one of the best starts to the tournament that I can remember, but every year for the past three years have been like this. It sounds so crazy to keep saying it every year, that this could be the best G1 of all time, because how can that even be? Especially this year, when so much of the top talent isn’t back in the tournament?

But New Japan has found a way, again, to try to top themselves. I think that is what I like most about this company. They don’t ever settle for something that the fans will just think is okay, they really try to go above and beyond each time they go out there for a show.

I have to mention that due to personal conflicts and priorities, I was unable to watch Monday morning/Sunday night’s show. I will have to include those matches in a future installment, most likely a Working the Loop or a stand-alone New Japan write up, but I do want to mention that I am aware that Will Ospreay was unable to compete in his match last night. While this isn’t the first time this has happened in a G1, it is kind of rare to see it. I just hope he is able to heal and get back to doing what he loves. I know a lot of people have so much invested in this tournament, and we all think about how the booking will change and whatnot, but we really should be thinking about the guys doing this stuff too. I hope Ospreay makes a full recovery, and most importantly, I hope he takes care of his body.

Matches that stuck out to me, and ones that I rated above an 8 are as follows:

– Shingo Takagi vs. Juice Robinson 8/10

– Jeff Cobb vs. Tomohiro Ishii 9/10

– Jay White vs. Hirooki Goto 9/10

– SANADA vs. Will Ospreay 8/10

​- Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kazuchika Okada 9/10

​- Kota Ibushi vs. Evil 8/10

​- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. KENTA 8/10

I know people will think that I am being liberal with my match ratings, but those would probably be people who haven’t seen these shows yet. It isn’t just high spot after high spot either. They were really matches that told a different story.

The biggest story coming out of the standings would be Kota Ibushi going 0 for 2 as far as wins go. The loss against KENTA wasn’t too surprising, but his loss to Evil was really shocking. He was my pick to win the entire thing besides Naito, and he could still run the table and find himself in the finals, but this isn’t a lock anymore. The other big story would be KENTA beating not only Ibushi but Tanahashi as well. I don’t really feel shocked by this, seeing how KENTA is an amazing athlete and worker, and he deserves to be showcased in this tournament, but I still find it strange that a “NOAH” guy came in and beat two of New Japan’s top guys.

For the record, I don’t really see Yano rolling up Naito as a surprise. I remember when he pinned Tanahashi years ago in another G1 Tournament. I just love that Yano acts as a spoiler from time to time. He is perfect for that spot.

Also, Lance Archer is the man. Please make sure to watch his matches this year.

On to the last item…

Extreme Rules was all right. There was some good wrestling, and we had the best Undertaker match that we have probably seen in years, but as far as the story goes, it was disappointing. For one, the scripted promo from Seth and Becky was really awful. It made them sound really weird and kind of psycho. When couples talk about walking around a city talking about how they are going to crack people’s heads open and pigeon poop, then that is when I question their sanity. I think that the WWE writing team has really lost any aspect of reality when it comes to booking realistic stories.

This event was also too long. This is a common theme with WWE. Even their smaller Pay Per Views feel like they are dragging. I know that it cuts down on people getting bigger paychecks and revenue, but holy crap lets cut some of the fat on these shows down. I didn’t even watch the pre-show, because I would have put my head through a wall. Wrestling shows shouldn’t take up half of your day. I don’t care how big of a fan you are, there needs to be some time to breathe and let everything process. Having it stretch out so long makes that really hard to do.

As for the big story out of the event, it looks like Brock is back with the Universal Title and we are back to holding pattern city. I mean, I knew he was going to eventually get it, but to me, this just says that we are going to get a “WrestleMania rematch” come SummerSlam, and I feel like that is lazy booking. I want to see new interactions and matchups, not the same thing that I was watching in April. WWE should feel lucky that AEW is so inexperienced right now. They are just leaving money on the table putting Brock back in the title picture. Maybe I am wrong, and we will get some amazing story out of this, but I really doubt it.


That is that. I can honestly say that this weekend lived up to much of the hype. I really enjoyed it. I don’t think these weekends should come around often, as I am worn out from watching so much wrestling, and I still have some Japanese promotions to check out this week, but it was still a really fun time. What was your favorite thing about the weekend? What was your least favorite? Comment below or feel free to hook up with me on social media. I am going to go and watch something fictional that doesn’t include men and women wearing tights. Enjoy your week!

Best In The World?

Seth Rollins has been telling anybody who will listen that the WWE is the best wrestling in the world right now. He’s been on a tear on Twitter, interacting with Will Ospreay and Wade Keller, laughing off criticism as well as calling out his friend, John Moxley, for “taking his ball and going home”. Needless to say, it’s been quite a week for the WWE Universal Champion.

I’m not one in the camp that says that Seth should mind his Ps and Qs and show some “respect” for outside companies. Let’s be real, come the fall, everyone is going to be competing for the same market share. Things could get really hairy in the foreseeable future. With those implications, maybe it is only natural for a “WWE” guy to double down on his position and why he chooses to stay with a company that seems to be getting thrown so much shade right now.

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of negative things that you could say about the WWE, particularly their booking, right now and nobody would blame you. Things are messy up and down the roster. Some people get over regardless of how they are booked, like Ricochet, and some are buried due circumstances beyond their control, like EC3. There is a top of the card that makes really good money, but there is a lot of people meandering.

Meanwhile, NJPW, even with all the losses they took over the past year, has really set themselves up to showcase newer wrestlers like Will Ospreay, El Phantasmo, Jon Moxley, and KENTA. Sure, there are criticism to be made about their product. I don’t like how dangerous some of their spots can be. I also don’t like the way that they book out in advance at times, where you don’t know the card until a couple of weeks before the event, but these are things that work in Japan, and there has to be some understanding of a learning curve when entering another market like the US and Canada. But still, for the amount that I pay each month for NJPW World, I feel like I get a lot more for my dollar than the WWE Network, even with more content being put up on WWE’s end.

The reasoning I have, and I know it won’t be shared by EVERYONE, is that I get more payoffs from the booking from New Japan than I do from the WWE. The wrestling isn’t that much better. Hell, the storylines and events aren’t always that much better either. But you can tell that there is effort put into how things are resolved, while with the WWE, there just seems to be effort put in on what will shock and awe people. There is only so much of that you can do before we as an audience are wanting more.

With the recent news of Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff now going back into WWE management and helping run the two different brands, I think we can sleep a little easier as to the company having some direction as far as moving the story along, but I think there has to be a lot of fundamental changes in how the product is presented. I think this is inevitable, due to the rumors that Fox wants to present this under their Fox Sports banner, and really, the current incarnation of the product is nothing even close to that.

But let’s get back to the main issue: what constitutes a company being able to be called “The Best In The World” at something? The barometer that most fans are probably going to point to would be bottom line profits, and in that spectrum, nobody is going to even come close to touching WWE now, or in the near future. The landscape just doesn’t support anyone else like it does the WWE right now, especially with the new television contracts on the horizon. But, should we really ignore the other aspects that make up a successful wrestling company?

I would have to point out that the numbers you see dwindling on the WWE side should be something to consider. If the WWE is the “best”, then why are viewers leaving the product in droves? Sure, they could possibly still be tuning into the Network PPVs every single month, but I would imagine if a company was the “best” at something, it would encourage their fan base to tune in all the time. That is how I feel when I watch baseball or football. I don’t feel like that with WWE. I feel like I can usually skip the weekly TV most of the time and still have the same viewing experience come the once a month Pay Per Views. I would imagine a lot of people feel the same way, when you take a peak at the weekly ratings.

When a New Japan Pro Wrestling show comes up, especially the upcoming G1 Climax tournament, I feel really excited. Most of the time, I don’t want to wait to watch even the smaller shows, due to fear of having it spoiled online, which is the exact opposite of how I treat WWE. I know this is all very anecdotal, but I feel like something should excite me to watch wrestling regularly, and not just to watch once a month . I also don’t want to dish out another $10 a month for something that I only get enjoyment out of every thirty days or so. I want to feel like my time is valuable, and if it is, I want to make sure that I spend it watching something that I enjoy thoroughly, rather than something I feel I need to enjoy, if that makes sense.

Again, what constitutes being recognized to be the best? Is it subjective? Is it something that can be gauged? Is it an answer that we can possibly find? If it is, I doubt that we would find it coming from the wrestlers. The truth of the matter is that the fans are the ones who decide these things, and they always have. They will decide who is the best in the fall, and they will decide who is the best when it comes to buying Pay Per Views and merchandise, and they will decide when it comes to television ratings. I think my point here is that we don’t know what is the best right now. The competition is just starting, and we probably won’t really know who the real “winner” is until we are well down the road.

Roman Reigns

I can’t put into words the sadness that I feel for Leati Joseph Anoa’i, aka WWE Superstar Roman Reigns, and the situation that he finds himself in today. After being selected to be “the guy” who would replace John Cena as the face of the company, much to the chagrin of the fan base, he has been informed that the leukemia that had been in remission for the last eleven years has returned. Due to this new situation, Reigns has decided to relinquish his championship and return to treatment to fight the disease.

It is hard for wrestling fans to step back and look at things rationally, but I think the entire wrestling community has looked at this moment and has had it open their eyes. For the past few years, we have really done nothing but scrutinize and dissect everything this young man has done, trying to decided if it was right or cool enough for us to accept. I understand that is the nature of the wrestling business, and I hate knocking fans for having an opinion one way or the other, but I also think that we should reevaluate how we react to certain situations that we see on television. Seeing Roman on Monday giving a speech that was probably the hardest thing in his life to do, all while doing it in front of people who would have probably booed him out of the building under any other circumstance was a bit surreal to watch. But it also put a lot of things in perspective.

We often get upset at the performers, but really, they are being told what to do and how to do it. Promoters have always held the power in wrestling. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but those are also becoming a lot more rare as time goes on and the WWE gets bigger. I don’t expect someone like Roman Reigns or John Cena to turn down a top spot, especially when they are going to be making really good money for it. I wouldn’t expect anybody to. The fact that we as wrestling fans get so upset at them for taking an opportunity is really strange. It’s asinine to think that they would really say something like. “Well the fans hate me, so maybe we should give this to Seth?” Nobody thinks like that. Especially people with the drive to make it to the top of the heap of a business as cutthroat as professional wrestling.

Roman Reigns, at the end of the day, is just some guy doing his job. He does it well, and that is why he is in the position that he is in. As much as fans complain about him, he draws in good house show and merchandise money. He’s well spoken and he is able to connect with young fans easily. He grew up in the business, and he helps run the locker room like a top guy should. He has a better “work rate” than John Cena did at the same point in his run. But ultimately, at the end of the day, this is a guy who is doing this because he loves it and it puts food on his table for his children. What’s not to love about that? The fact that it was a leukemia diagnosis to make the majority of us see that is sad, and I think that is something that we all should look at ourselves.

I suppose those questions are best left at a later date. At this time, we should all just appreciate what Roman Reigns did, in and out of the ring, and also realize that these performers that go out every single night are people, just like you and me. They have issues at home, they forget to do chores, and they get bad news from doctors. It takes a lot of sacrifice to go out and put yourself on the line in front of people night after night. It took a lot of guts for Roman Reigns to perform every time he stepped through those ropes knowing that he was going to be crapped on, but he did it anyway. Sure, he does get paid a lot of money to do it, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult. Regardless of wrestling, I hope that Roman does get healthy soon and we do see him perform again. It takes a lot of guts to fight back, and I know that he has enough of that to take on any challenge.

God speed, and good health, sir.

The Nostalgia Trap

WWE is a very mixed bag right now. If you want to see some of the best wrestling in the world, you can turn on any given wrestling show produced by them and see at least one really entertaining match. That couldn’t always be said about their product, but with guys like Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Kevin Owens doing amazing things each time they are given the chance. But at the same time, you have a program at the top of the card being taken by older, slower, but far more popular stars for a tag match about eight years past it’s shelf life.

Look, I don’t try to knock older wrestlers. But at the same time, I think that there is a point where guys shouldn’t be at the top of the card, regardless of how big of a draw they still are. I know that this is a business, and with any business you have to look at profits and what makes you the most money, but you also have to have forward thinking, and that is something that seems to be lacking in a lot of wrestling right now.

Minoru Suzuki recently had an interview in Japan where he talked about what was missing from NJPW right now, and his answer was pretty telling, in that he stated there isn’t a star in their 20s right now. He pointed out that when Kazuchika Okada first won the IWGP Heavyweight Title, he was only 24. When I think back fifteen years ago, and I think of guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Dave Bautista, the landscape looked like there was so much on the horizon, and right now, I don’t feel that is the case at all.

Look at all the guys who should be future players and money makers for the WWE and NJPW. Most, if not all, are currently in their 30s, already in the stage of their career where they should be making the most money of their career. The problem is that unless you want some carousel of revolving champions that dilute the main event scene in the process, most of these guys will never reach the top. There are only so many spots available, and again, we have to see who has the most potential with earning money in those spots.

The biggest problem right now is with the mid-card. No one is ever built up to be a legitimate threat to anything in the long run. Even a guy like Braun Strowman, who was the most over person on the roster for much of the past year, was shown to be expendable. Since his heel turn after SummerSlam he has been booked vastly different. So we have all of that build up and having him crush everyone in his path save for Brock Lesnar, we are now seeing him act like a coward when it comes to facing off against Roman Reigns.

These companies aren’t doing much to make us believe that someone can rise through the ranks and become a true star. We have been conditioned to believe that there are only a select few that can make a true impact on the main event scene. Sure, there are exceptions like AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, but those guys were huge stars outside of WWE, and neither of them are young.

One could argue that there are wrestlers that are in the pipeline. NXT is as stacked as ever right now, and the match ups that you will see when they start to get called up is exciting, but looking at others who have prospered in NXT and then get called up to the main roster (Bobby Rude comes to mind), it doesn’t leave a lot of confidence that stars are on their way. I think a lot of times the writing team gets excited about having a new wrestler to incorporate into their story lines, but after a bit, the shine seems to fade and Vince gets convinced that the person doesn’t have the right “it” factor.

That is the big difference with WWE and the world outside of WWE. Vince wants to convince people that he knows what a star looks like. And he does. Lord knows that he has made this amount of money in wrestling because he knows his product and he knows his audience. But the problem is that is doesn’t leave much for organic growth. When we as fans see someone who we perceive as stars on TV, and then they get jobbed out continually once the honeymoon is over, it frustrates us. It feels like an insult of our intelligence,

One thing that WWE and NJPW have to consider is that there is so much on the horizon that is going to be crucial to growth of their product and profits going forward. WWE is going to be on network television, and they need big TV stars, not just “wrestling” stars, in order to keep the ratings consistent. Also, with New Japan Pro Wrestling trying to expand globally, they need to establish that they are a big deal outside of Japan, and the way they do that is to present stars that audiences want to see.

Nostalgia is a big part of professional wrestling. I remember being a kid and being excited to see Roddy Piper and Terry Funk wrestle, even though they were well past their primes. But, it is not a viable way to continue making money. One only has to look back to the end of WCW, and while many mistakes were made then, I think the most glaring one was that they never established young talent that would eventually replace guys like Hogan and Flair at the top. Let’s hope that the top companies now-a-days don’t make the same mistake.

The Brie Bella Situation

I didn’t plan on writing about Raw this week. In fact, before last night, I had been working on a piece covering wrestling fandom that will have to be pushed back a bit to later on this week so that I can tackle something that has been a huge topic inside pro wrestling circles, and that is the incident that happened last Monday during the women’s six man tag team match.

The only thing that really needs to be pointed out is one spot that has been dissected and analyzed over and over again for the past forty-eight hours or so. Brie Bella of the Bella Twins was doing her spot that was made famous by her husband, Daniel Bryan, the Yes Kicks, where her opponent would kneel in front of her while taking the kicks across her chest. At one point, Brie switched up her speed of the kicks, and during that, her opponent, Liv Morgan, took a boot square on the jaw, knocking her out on her knees. When this happened, Brie had not noticed, and continued with her kicks, again kicking Morgan in the face. What really surprised me is that the match wasn’t stopped immediately, in fact, Liv actually got up and still performed the rest of her spots, even after being out cold.

Since this happened, the entire internet wrestling community seems to be split on the issue. Many people are placing all the blame on Brie, which is silly to me. Sure, Brie Bella is certainly not blameless, and I definitely find myself questioning her new assortment of moves, but for people to be calling for the stake right now is just overacting.

Let’s break this down as much as we can. For one, professional wrestling is a dangerous sport. People have argued with me when I say that wrestling is even less safe than say MMA or pro boxing. Reason being is that you are working on a harder schedule, you are taking a lot more punishment, and you also have the benefit of a ref or a corner stopping a fight that may be getting out of hand. Meanwhile, wrestling has always had an old school approach of the show must go on. Back before the WWE had a Wellness Policy and concussion protocols, you would hear countless stories of the boys getting knocked silly or out cold, and then having to complete the match they are in. Most retell the tales with a sort of reverence for the occasion, even though it possibly meant injuring themselves even further. The fact is that even though it is a work, people get injured constantly, and it doesn’t always boil down to someone being unsafe.

Accidents happen constantly in pro wrestling. They happen during the most mundane spots in a match sometimes. Did you know that King Mabel broke The Undertaker’s orbital bone back in 1995 doing a clothesline? That’s right, a simple clothesline being botched was enough to put someone out of action for a month and require facial surgery. What about Seth Rollins and his buckle bomb? He did that to Finn Balor on a guardrail, and put him out of action just when he got his Universal Title run. Then, Rollins injured Sting with the same move, and that time it was inside the ring on a padded turnbuckle. I didn’t see the same reaction then, and if I did, I would think it would be silly too.

One big complaint I keep seeing is that Brie should not be doing that kicking spot in the first place. I tend to agree, but I also see what they are trying to do with the older “Diva” performers in the current landscape. People want fast paced action, and they want to see a match and have it tell a story. The women that came around before the “women’s revolution” are trying to make sure they won’t be forgotten in this new landscape of talented female workers. Can you really blame them for trying new or different things to stay relevant? I don’t want Brie using Bryan’s moves because I think it is unoriginal. That is a spot that is used maybe on big Pay Per Views to get a crowd super hot. But I disagree with Brie not using it for hope that it will make her matches safer. People should be challenging themselves out there. The Bellas should be allowed to grow and mature and get better, no matter how old they are or how long they have been around. I say that because Trish Stratus was first known as some hot model who couldn’t wrestle, and after her regular career had ended, she was remembered as one of the greatest female wrestlers to ever come to the WWE.

At the same time, Brie should take some fault in this. Again, this is a spot that she really doesn’t need to do anymore. At first it was a tribute to her husband, who was retired due to injuries. Now it just seems like a cheap pop. Number two, Brie Bella doesn’t have to wrestle like these other girls to get over. This faster and more technical style is great, and I love the way women’s wrestling is finally being portrayed, but at the same time, these women can work a slower and more showman style, especially someone like Brie Bella. Also, she should have told the ref what was wrong right away rather than try to continue the match. That was my biggest pet peeve of the entire ordeal. Doctors should have been called in right away and Liv should have been taken out, then call the match a no contest or a forfeit.

Brie shouldn’t be made a villain from this. She was simply doing a move, not recklessly or with no abandon. This wasn’t New Jack throwing Vic Grimes off a scaffold, nor was it Akira Maeda’s shoot kick. It was simply a badly timed spot performed by a sloppy worker and someone got hurt. This happens all the time in wrestling. Mitsuhara Misawa died from a back suplex. Darren Drozdov got dumped on his head by D-Lo Brown by a move D-Lo had done hundreds of times before. Things get messed up in wrestling. It’s wrong to think we should shame someone out of the business or their spot when it is an accident without malicious intent.