Wrestling Observer Newsletter - 8th April 2013

Wrestling Observer Newsletter - 8th April 2013
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Apr 8 2013 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: Biggest show in history of wrestling looming, a full look at this weekend's shows, tragic death of Reid Flair, tons more

Wrestling Observer Newsletter
PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 April 8, 2013

Pro wrestling, in at least some type of form, has existed in the U.S. in some form for about 150 years. But Sunday’s 29th rendition of WrestleMania, is expected to be, from a financial standpoint, the biggest event in its history.

What’s notable is that almost every record setting event was based on some form of an ultimate match, whether it be Frank Gotch vs. George Hackenschmidt, Strangler Lewis vs. Gus Sonnenberg, Lewis vs. Jim Londos, Lou Thesz vs. Baron Leone, Pat O’Connor vs. Buddy Rogers, John Tolos vs. Fred Blassie, Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko, Hulk Hogan vs. Paul Orndorff, Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, Keiji Muto vs. Nobuhiko Takada, The Rock vs. Steve Austin or even last year’s Rock vs. John Cena record holder.

This year, it’s not really about any specific match, although Rock vs. Cena for the WWE title is clearly the main event, and on paper, Undertaker vs. C.M Punk and Brock Lesnar vs. HHH, with Shawn Michaels in his corner, are all solid main event matches. But none have come off as any kind of matches of the century going in, with that special hype and buzz that leads to record business. Even so, the WrestleMania brand name and being in the New York market, even though technically he event will take place across state lines at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, was strong enough that the show has already set the all-time gate record, and pretty well did that with advance sales before one match was officially announced.

But even more so, it can be argued that this is the biggest week in history, particularly in one geographical location. With WrestleCon, a number of different independent groups are all running on the same stage. In addition, TNA is running in the area with one of its biggest house shows to date, and ROH has what is likely to be its biggest show of the year, and to set its all-time gate record. Several other promotions are also expected to draw their biggest crowds of the year as fans travel from 34 countries and all 50 states for the week.

There are also a number of MMA shows with national distribution. And there are big international shows, as well as a taped TNA PPV, a New Japan PPV and the 70th anniversary of pro wrestling at Arena Coliseo in Mexico City. Nearly every major living wrestling star of the past 30 years will be in the New York area, either performing, or signing autographs.

WrestleMania 29 legitimately sold out to the tune of 70,000 fans about one month ahead of time. It was the hottest WrestleMania ticket in several years, and the most expensive in history. Last year’s all-time gate record of $8.2 million has been shattered, as this year’s gate has topped $11 million. There are going to be a few more tickets released when production moves in and sets up, so the real attendance will be somewhere in the 70,000 to 75,000 range. That would put it in the top four WWE shows of all-time, behind the Pontiac Silverdome, the 1992 SummerSlam at Wembley Stadium, and the 2007 WrestleMania at Ford Field in Detroit, and it could beat Ford Field.

I thought the announced number would be closer to 90,000, maybe more. The stadium record is 93,000 and they always want to announce a stadium record, but they also don’t want to announce a number that the mainstream media will shit on (although local media in Detroit never accepted the 2007 WWE number nor was it considered the building record by anyone even though they announced it was). Still, on the Raw go-home show, they were using the 70,000 figure. One would think they’ll announce a number larger than the building can hold for the Super Bowl in January, because one of the talking points they like to claim is outdrawing the Super Bowl in the same building, even though the very idea of a comparison is a joke.

The availability of tickets right now is minimal. As of Easter Sunday, there were 2,307 tickets on the secondary market. The average price for tickets was $402, way up from last year in Miami where a week out, the average price was $280. But Miami didn’t legitimately sell out, so unless you were looking for prime seats, you didn’t have to pay over market price. One second row ringside seat would cost $5,500, but to get two together would cost$8,500 per seat. There were two front row seats available, one going for $22,500 and the other for $50,000.

There will be wider streaming availability this year, on Apple, Android, Windows 8, Kindle Fire, Xbox 360 and Samsung Smart TV.

WWE officials this week are touting that the week’s worth of activities will pump $100 million into the area economy, with 125,000 tourists coming to New York and New Jersey for events. Publicly, they are predicting 1.3 million PPV buys, a figure that no pro wrestling event has ever reached. Others in the organization were shaken up by how the Elimination Chamber show did with Rock vs. Punk noting it had better promos than Rock vs. Cena and still did a disappointing number. Plus, there is a price increase to $59.95 standard definition and $69.95 high definition in North America. While many have complained, big prices have never hurt PPVs in the past, and people paid that in droves for Floyd Mayweather fights already with no problems. Every year, the brand name WrestleMania gets stronger, whether the lineup or the storylines building up the matches do or not. But still, there have been wide variations and have been disappointing numbers, none of which people really foresaw ahead of time. But the expectations are for this to do, if not record buys, record revenues.

Ratings for the three hour shows during the period leading up to the show were ahead of those for the two hour shows last year. Live attendance, probably still the best barometer of the strength of the brand, over the last six weeks has been the strongest for WWE in years, and that’s with several of the key Mania headliners not even on those shows. This is also the first show with Rock and Lesnar, the two biggest draws, both appearing.

According to WWE figures, last year there were 45,000 fans who came from outside the Miami area and purchased tickets for last year’s WrestleMania. That doesn’t include those who came to town and didn’t attend the show itself. They averaged spending four nights and spent almost $7 million at area restaurants. Many of the hotels surrounding East Rutherford, NJ, have been sold out for months.

Sunday is a major day of wrestling all over the world, with not only WrestleMania and a Dragon Gate USA iPPV from Secaucus, NJ, as well as a New Japan iPPV from Tokyo Sumo Hall, and a live free stream from Mexico of the 70th anniversary of pro wrestling at Arena Coliseo in Mexico City.

Saturday’s highlights include the WWE Hall of Fame, a Dragon Gate USA iPPV, a live UFC show from Stockholm, Sweden, and an ROH TV taping.

Friday has a TNA PPV show, a TNA house show, an ROH iPPV, and an Invicta all-women’s PPV and more.

When: Sunday, 4/7, one hour pre-game show on the WWE.com and selected other sites at 6 p.m., four-hour PPV from 7-11 p.m. (All times listed as Eastern time zone)

Where: Metlife Stadium Lineup: Wade Barrett vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental title on the pre-show; PPV card features The Rock vs. John Cena for WWE championship, Undertaker vs. C.M. Punk with Undertaker’s streak at stake, Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) vs. HHH (with Shawn Michaels) in a no holds barred match with the stipulations that HHH must retire if he loses; Alberto Del Rio (with Ricardo Rodriguez) vs. Jack Swagger (with Zeb Colter) for the World title; Randy Orton & Big Show & Sheamus vs. Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose; Ryback vs. Mark Henry; Kane & Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E Langston (with A.J. Lee) for the WWE tag titles, Chris Jericho vs. Fandango, Brodus Clay & Tensai & Naomi & Cameron vs. Damien Sandow & Cody Rhodes & Bella Twins

Notes: As with other WWE events, it is possible they could add matches, particularly the idea of one match in an hour pre-game show sounds like it could drag badly.

House shows over the weekend had Jericho and Fandango work together in trios matches and reports were strong on their interaction. A decision was also made to put Mark Henry vs. Ryback in singles matches on house shows to get them ready. That was a good idea, because reports were they did not do well any of the three nights and now they’ve established there is a need to work our the kinks.

As of the weekend, these were the planned segment lengths, not matches but the segments, and these times will change up until the show, particularly the top three matches. Rock, Cena, HHH and Undertaker have the star power and seniority to get more or less time the day of the show as they see fit, within at least some limits: Del Rio vs. Swagger 15:00; Jericho vs. Fandango 10:00; Sean Combs concert 8:00; Hall of Fame introductions 7:00; Eight-man tag 8:00; six-man tag 15:00; Tag titles 12-15:00; Ryback vs. Henry 12:00 (that’s one I’d change as the match, with the idea of Ryback using the shell shock on Henry for the WrestleMania moment, really doesn’t need to go more than 7:00 bell-to-bell); HHH vs. Lesnar (20-30:00); Undertaker vs. Punk (20:00) and Rock vs. Cena (25-30:00).

Expect surprises since there have been a plethora of turns, particularly faces to heel, rumored and talked about. The original plan was for Jericho to have already turned, but that was ditched several weeks back. There are a lot of expectations that Orton turns on his partners and costs them the match with The Shield, since Orton vs. Sheamus was at one point scheduled for this show. The word is the Ziggler, Langston and A.J. group is supposed to get a big push coming off the show. I don’t know if that means Ziggler & Langston get the tag titles, or that Ziggler gets the world title. A.J. could also get the Divas title. At this point, Kaitlyn, the champion, is not scheduled for the show, although if she is added, based on TV, A.J. would be the opponent. Or they could save that match for a TV the week after. The keys to the show are also setting up the post-Mania run, which would mean getting a title contender for Cena, which at one point was talked about for Ryback, and there’s always Punk for the spot in the old Orton role as the match-up that seemingly never ends.

Most of the matches should be good, but unlike most years, there is not the match that you look at and say, this is going to be a show stealer. Rock vs. Cena in a long match we saw last year and it was good. Most likely, the combination of fans traveling in and being in New York means the crowd will probably be about 90% pro-Rock, even though Cena is the full-time face of the promotion. While Undertaker won’t be booed, Punk is likely to get a good split reaction or better. Rhodes and Ziggler have been very popular in the New York market for big shows over the past year.

The acts who have the most to gain and lose are probably Swagger and Fandango. Del Rio is getting pushed no matter how he does because they need a Hispanic babyface star. If it doesn’t work, they’ll keep trying new ways. Swagger, on the other hand, with all his TV and his big push, if he’s not over, they may say he didn’t work out. If he does, it should help him. Fandango is going to be pushed coming off Mania, with his dancing extra and special ring entrance. But if his match is good and gets over, it will make a difference. He and Jericho is a sleeper match, but the key for them is to go on early. If they go late, particularly after the higher profile matches, it’ll be harder to get the crowd, and also, if running late, they’ll be the guys who get time cut.

Another variable is the weather. No rain was being predicted at press time, but it was expected to be a chilly night, high 40s and low 50s. Bumps and chops hurt a lot worse in cold outdoor weather, and it’s tougher for crowd reactions as well.

When: Sunday, 4/7 at 6 p.m. Live and free at www.terra.com.mx

Where: Mexico City’s Arena Coliseo

Lineup: Dragon Rojo Jr. vs. La Sombra for the CMLL world middleweight title; Atlantis & Diamante Azul & Rayo de Jalisco Jr. vs. Mascara Ano 2000 & Universo 2000 & Ray Mendoza Jr.; Shocker & Averno & Blue Panther (Team CMLL) vs. Black Terry & Negro Navarro & Villano IV (Team Independent); Goya Kong & Estrellita & Marcela & Silueta & Dalis la Caribena vs. Amapola & Princesa Blanca & Princesa Sugei & Zeuxis & Tiffany; Oro Jr. & Soberano vs. Espanto Jr. & Guerrero Negro Jr.

Notes: Arena Coliseo, the original home of CMLL before they were selling it out so frequently that the promotion built the larger Arena Mexico, celebrates its anniversary. The debut show was on April 3, 1943, where two of the country’s all-time legends, El Santo and Tarzan Lopez, met in a singles match on top, plus Bobby Arreola faced Miguel “Blackie” Guzman, who was later to become one of the biggest stars in Texas during the 50s as the tag team partner of Rito Romero.

This show, expected to sellout the now 5,500 seat arena (it held 8,800 when it first opened), features the company’s hottest young wrestler in Sombra challenging for the title, plus returns of seven former headliners (Jalisco Jr., the two Dinamita Brothers, Mendoza Jr. and brother Villano IV, as well as Black Terry and Negro Navarro who are now famous teachers who were headliners in the 80s). Princesa Sugei, one of the more talented Mexican women wrestlers ever, also returns.

When: Sunday, 4/7, 1 p.m., airs live on iPPV at www.WWNLive.com

Where: Meadowlands Convention Center, Secaucus, NJ

Lineup: Johnny Gargano & Ricochet & Rich Swann vs. Cima & Eita & mystery partner; Shingo Takagi vs. Akira Tozawa; Matt Jackson vs. Nick Jackson vs. Samuray del Sol vs. Facade vs. Christina Von Eerie vs. AR Fox vs. Uhaa Nation with staggered entrances like a Rumble, eliminations via pinfalls, submission or DQ and ladders legal; Brian Kendrick vs. Chuck Taylor; Super Smash Brothers vs. Sami Callihan & Arik Cannon; Tony Nese vs. Soldier Ant.

Notes: Expect a spectacular fast-paced flying show. As far as simply spectacular and fast pacing, it will beat the other much higher profile shows. Plus, for most of the non-Japanese wrestlers, they will be performing before an international audience much larger than they are used to. If anything, that should raise their games, at least as far as creativity and risk-taking. With the ladder match in particular, that could be good or bad.

When: Sunday, 4/7, 3 a.m. live (late Saturday night) Live iPPV for 1,800 yen ($19.25) at www.ustream.tv/channel/njpw1972 (replays available for one week)

Where: Tokyo Sumo Hall.

Lineup: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP heavyweight title; Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr., for the IWGP Intercontinental title; Rob Conway vs. Satoshi Kojima for the NWA heavyweight title; Yuji Nagata & Hirooki Goto vs. Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata; Minoru Suzuki vs. Toru Yano; Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma vs. Masato Tanaka & Yujiro Takahashi; El Terrible & Tama Tonga vs. Valiente & La Mascara for the CMLL world tag team titles; Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi & Super Strong Machine & Akebono vs. Bob Sapp & Takashi Iizuka & Tomohiro Ishii & Yoshi-Hashi; Alex Shelley & Kushida vs. Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi for the IWGP jr. heavyweight tag team titles

Notes: Tanahashi vs. Okada matches New Japan’s two biggest single stars in their fourth title meeting over the past 14 months, and are probably the best bet to have the top match of the weekend. All three previous matches were well over four stars. Okada is the upcoming star, who beat Tanahashi and ended his one-year plus run on February 12, 2012, in Osaka. Tanahashi regained the title in the rematch on June 16, 2012. Okada become No. 1 contender by winning the G-1 Climax tournament, but lost before 29,000 fans paid, the largest crowd in years for Japanese pro wrestling, on 1/4 at the Tokyo Dome. But Okada won the New Japan Cup tournament on 3/23, beating Goto in the finals. There are strong arguments for both men winning. New Japan has shown tremendous growth under Tanahashi and they did shockingly well on iPPV (more than 90,000 buys in Japan, second most in history) for his 2/20 title defense against Karl Anderson, a challenger nobody really believed had a chance and someone who isn’t a big drawing card. On the other hand, Okada lost to Minoru Suzuki and this would be his third loss in a row to Tanahashi. Going on such a crowded weekend will probably hurt U.S. buys, but those are minimal. In Japan, there is no reason this show shouldn’t beat everything but the last Tokyo Dome show.

With the exception of the G-1 Climax tournament or joint shows, New Japan hasn’t legitimately sold out Sumo Hall (11,500 seats) in years, as even the spectacular 10/8 King of Pro Wrestling show with Tanahashi vs. Suzuki did 7,000. The last one was October 12, 2009, for Masahiro Chono’s 25th anniversary show with Keiji Muto & Chono & Kenta Kobashi teaming up for the first time ever against Nakanishi & Kojima & Jun Akiyama. It will be interesting to see how close they can come with a Tokyo Dome rematch of their biggest singles match.

Nakamura vs. Smith Jr. is based on Smith Jr. beating Nakamura clean in the New Japan Cup. They had a good match, but this is a much bigger stage.

Conway is a complete unknown and the value of the NWA title in Japan in 2013 is questionable, but evidently the promotion believes it’s still something by putting it as one of the three main events.

Every Sakuraba & Shibata match so far has had great heat, and Nagata & Goto are a better team in the ring than anyone they’ve faced so far.

Suzuki vs. Yano will be a brawl and a style clash, and Lucha Libre is hit and miss on a New Japan big show. The eight-man tag should be what it is on every show, a lot of familiar names, while the jr. tag title match should be excellent.

When: Thursday 6 p.m., Friday 6 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Sunday at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Where: Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ

Notes: These are a combination of autograph shows, special attractions and merchandise stands. Every session will feature a revolving group of stars, with everyone in the promotion as well as legends from the past involved. In addition, a ring will be set up at every session and there will be a regular wrestling show produced by HHH with the top stars in developmental being brought in to work with the wrestles on the main roster who aren’t working at WrestleMania.

When: Saturday, 4/6 8 p.m. (Airs on Tuesday, 4/9 on USA Network 10 p.m.)

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

Lineup: Bruno Sammartino, Donald Trump, Trish Stratus, Mick Foley, Bob Backlund, Booker T

Notes: Billed as Bruno Sammartino 188th Madison Square Garden sellout, which is the new 93,173, this is one of the most star-studded Hall of Fame classes ever. The 77-year-old Sammartino returns to the building he headlined legitimately 138 times, more than anyone in history, and also wrestled in more times than anyone in history. The event is not without late controversy due to the decision to put Stratus as one of the three main eventers, ahead of Foley, or at least that was how it was advertised on Raw. According to a WWE source, they were not aware of the commercial (it was a USA Network commercial) and that they were 90 percent sure Foley will be part of the broadcast. In the past, everyone gets cameo time, but usually only two inductees, three max, are featured. Stephanie McMahon wanted to induct Stratus. As noted last week, Stratus had on her web site put up a poll asking who should induct her, and the results according to her, came up overwhelmingly for Lita. She then said she agreed with the decision, meaning she didn’t know any better at the time. According to those in WWE, a lot of the talent was upset when the commercial aired, not at all as a knock to Stratus, but just that Foley deserved better than to be treated as a prelim guy in the Hall of Fame. Many were even more upset about Trump getting top billing, but it’s WWE tradition at the Hall of Fame to put the celebrities ahead of all but the biggest star each year, and there’s no way Trump would appear if he wasn’t featured. We heard from a few people who were shocked when it appeard Foley was relegated to the off-TV grouping, and weren’t mincing words about it. Even I, who have been told time after time that the Hall of Fame is simply a vehicle to sell a DVD, felt Foley deserved a lot better, but it does appear he’ll get at least more than cameo time. With all due respect to Stratus, her career was not in the ballpark of Foley or Bob Backlund. Backlund headlined 67 times in Madison Square Garden and sold out 41 of them, and was the second longest reigning champion in history behind Sammartino. At press time, it has been announced that Sammartino will be inducted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who unlike some combinations in the past, the two really were friends and had trained together dating back to the 60s, although of the wrestlers, Schwarzenegger was actually closer to Superstar Billy Graham during that period. Foley will be inducted by Terry Funk. Backlund will be inducted by Maria Menounos of the TV show Extra, who has wrestled at WrestleMania before, done well and is legitimately a big fan. It is rumored Booker T will be inducted by his brother, Stevie Ray, but WWE officials would not confirm that. Nothing also was said about Trump, although one WWE official suggested to us that Trump was going to insist on Vince McMahon because nobody else would be considered good enough for him.

When: Saturday, 4/6, 8 p.m., iPPV live at www.WWNLive.com

Where: Meadowlands Convention Center, Secaucus, NJ,

Lineup: Johnny Gargano vs. Shingo Takagi for the Open the Freedom Gate title; Cima & A.R. Fox vs. The Young Bucks for the Open the United Gate tag team title; Samuray del Sol vs. Jon Davis; Akira Tozawa vs. Ricochet; Sami Callihan vs. Uhaa Nation; Brian Kendrick vs. Rich Swann; Super Smash Brothers vs. Eita & mystery partner; Chuck Taylor vs. Arik Cannon vs. Jigsaw vs. Tony Nese vs. Fire Ant vs. Shane Strickland

Notes: Gargano, champion for more than 500 days, defends against one of Dragon Gate’s biggest stars, plus a lot of the best upcoming talent on the indie scene today are on the show. The expectation is this show will draw a crowd approaching 1,000 fans, making it the most successful Dragon Gate USA event in the company’s history.

When: Saturday 4/6, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Boonton, NJ Elks Lodge

Notes: An All womens’ show takes place roughly a half hour away from both Secaucus and East Rutherford. LuFisto, the Montreal native who is currently making a name for herself in Mexico, will be on the show facing Sumie Sakai. The main event features one of the greatest woman wrestlers of all-time, 43-year-old Kyoko Inoue, who won five world titles during the early 90s glory period of All Japan women, facing Mercedes Martinez.

When: Saturday 4/6, 4 p.m.

Where: Meadowlands Convention Center, Secaucus, NJ

Lineup: Eddie Kingston vs. Hallowicked for CHIKARA Grand Championship; Mike Quackenbush & Mystery partner vs. The Shard & Jigsaw; Amasis vs. Ophidian; Spectral Envoy vs. The Throwbacks vs. The Batiri vs. The Devastation Corporation; Archibald Peck vs. Tim Donst; The Colony & Frightmare vs. Soldier Ant & The Colony Xtreme Force; 3.0 & Gran Akuma & Marty Jannetty vs. FIST; Saturyne vs. Kobald

Notes: The comedy-based promotion is also expected to play before its biggest crowd of the year for a show taped for DVD distribution.

When: Saturday, 4/6, 2 p.m.

Where: Manhattan Center, New York

Lineup: Karl Anderson vs. Michael Elgin; Bobby Fish vs. Eddie Edwards; Kyle O’Reilly vs. Davey Richards, ACH challenges for TV title, plus Kevin Steen, Matt Taven, Mark & Jay Briscoe, Jay Lethal, B.J. Whitmer, Caprice Coleman, Cedric Alexander, Steve Corino, Jimmy Jacobs, Adam Cole and Roderick Strong

Notes: Four weeks of television, largely building up the 5/4 Border Wars PPV in Toronto, will be taped. Plenty of tickets remain for the 1,100 seat building.

When: Saturday 4/6, Noon, live iPPV at www.WWNLive.com

Where: Meadowlands Convention Center, Secaucus, NJ

Lineup: Sweet Saraya Knight vs. Cheerleader Melissa in a cage match for the Shimmer championship; Ayako Hamada vs. Athena; Madison Eagles vs. Jessie McKay, Mercedes Martinez vs. Ayumi Kurihara; Amazing Kong vs. Mia Yim, Plus: Canadian Ninjas, Christina Von Eerie, Serena Deeb, Kana, Allison Danger, Tomoko Nakagawa, Cherry Bomb, Leva Bates, Veda Scott, Kellie Skater, Taylor Made, Allysin Kaye and Rhia O’Reilly

Notes: A group known for pushing athletic based women’s pro wrestling, brings in wrestlers from all over the world. Knight, the mother of WWE’s Paige, comes from the U.K. The soon to be retiring Kurihara is one of Japan’s best woman wrestlers. Hamada, a second generation star, has been one of the top woman wrestlers for years. Kong and Melissa were both stars in TNA and Deeb was a star in WWE.

When: Saturday, 4/6, 10:30 a.m. (that’s 7:30 a.m. for those of you on the West Coast), Facebook coverage from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; live on Fuel TV from 2-5 p.m.

Where: Ericsson Globe Arena, Stockholm, Sweden

Lineup: Facebook fights - Papy Abedi vs. Besam Yousef; Michael Kuiper vs. Tom Lawlor; Ben Alloway vs. Ryan LaFlare; Marcus Brimage vs. Conor McGregor; Adlan Amagov vs. Chris Spang; Adam Cella vs. Tor Troeng; Michael Johnson vs. Reza Madadi. Fuel fights - Akira Corassani vs. Robert Peralta; Diego Brandao vs. Pablo Garza; Mike Easton vs. Brad Pickett; Philip DeFries vs. Matt Mitrione; Ryan Couture vs. Ross Pearson; Gegard Mousasi vs. Ilir Latifi

Notes: A major soap opera evolved over the past few days resulting in an unknown fighter headlining a UFC show in his debut. The show had been built around Sweden’s biggest fighting star, Alexander Gustafsson, the 6-foot-5 light heavyweight contender facing the former Strikeforce champion and Japanese star. But on 3/28, in his final wrestling practice, Gustafsson fell face first into a cage, opening up a deep cut near his eye, which was closed with three stitches at the hospital. Three doctors looked at it and all suggested that Gustafsson would not be cleared. On Easter Sunday, a major holiday in Sweden, news of the injury was reported on the country’s leading news channel. The Swedish Mixed Martial Arts Commission strongly suggested the fight was in serious jeopardy. Dana White that night, said the fight was on, which, at the time, it was. But on 4/2, the commission examined the cut, and made the ruling Gustafsson could not be cleared. This was a big problem in a number of ways. First, it’s not exactly easy to get someone to take a fight with no notice. Second, with the show being in Sweden, where visas are needed, there was no time for anyone to get a new visa, pretty well limiting options to only European fighters since they are allowed to come to Sweden. Due to Gustafsson, this show sold out 13,000 tickets (about 15,000 in all) for $2.3 million the first day they were put on sale. There’s no word on the refund policy. UFC signed Ilir Latifi, the training partner of Gustafsson, who has a 7-2 record, as the late replacement, and changed the main event from five rounds to three rounds, given that Latifi is already at enough of a handicap talking a fight with no training. Mousasi agreed to the fight to save the show, even though he’s going from a 6-foot-5 striker to a 5-foot-8 Swedish national wrestling champion, wrestling is his weakness and as his UFC debut, this fight is gigantic for him. Latifi’s two losses were to Emanuel Newton, back in 2011 via decision, and Tatsuya Mizuno via TKO in 2009. Newton just won Bellator’s light heavyweight tournament.

Ryan Couture, the son of Randy Couture, becomes the first second generation UFC fighter in the semifinal when facing England’s former Ultimate Fighter winner Ross Pearson. Pearson has said that Couture was not at his level.

Easton vs. Pickett matches two top-ten bantamweights, with Easton known for boring fights and Pickett for exciting ones.

When: Friday 10 p.m.

Where: Beacon Theater, New York

Notes: Hogan, Eric Bischoff and announcer Dave Penzer to a question and answer show. They booked the 2,894-seat theater and at last word, tickets priced from $30 to $300 originally, were not selling well and were being heavily discounted.

When: Friday, 8 p.m.

Where: Meadowlands Convention Center, Secaucus, NJ

Lineup: Masada vs. Jun Kasai for the CZW heavyweight title; Brian Kendrick vs. Sami Callihan; Eric Ryan & Dustin Rayz vs. Ruckus & Blk Jeez for the CZW tag titles; Greg Excellent vs. Colt Cabana; Shane Strickland vs. A.R. Fox vs. Rich Swann vs. Chiva Kid vs. Shane Hollister vs. Lucky 13; Jake & Dave Crist vs. Tommy End & Michael Dante; Matt Tremont vs. Joe Gacy; Drake Younger vs. Danny Havoc; Gulak Campaign vs. The Front

Notes: Kasai comes back from Big Japan Wrestling while Dante & End are from Westside Extreme Wrestling in Germany.

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m., iPPV live at www.rohwrestling.com

Where: Hammerstein Ballroom, New York

Lineup: Kevin Steen vs. Jay Briscoe for ROH title; Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly vs. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards for ROH tag titles; Matt Taven vs. Adam Cole vs. Matt Hardy for ROH TV title; Jay Lethal vs. Michael Elgin for the No. 1 contender spot; Karl Anderson vs. Roderick Strong; B.J. Whitmer & Mark Briscoe & Mike Mondo & Caprice Coleman & Cedric Alexander vs. Jimmy Jacobs & Cliff Compton & Rhett Titus & Rhino & Jimmy Rave, ACH & Tadarius Thomas vs. QT Marshall & mystery partner

Notes: A strong lineup, in particular with the tag team title match as Fish & O’Reilly face the team that they won the titles largely to face in the first major RedDragon vs American Wolves battle. Largely due to so many fans coming into town, this show sold out the 1,800 tickets weeks ago and will be the promotion’s largest gate in its history. The Lethal vs Elgin winner is likely to face Steen for the title in Toronto. New Japan’s Anderson returns to ROH. He appeared twice with the promotion in 2007, but this time he comes in as a bonafide star, after headlining the New Japan February PPV and having what may have been, at least thus far, the best match of this year against Hiroshi Tanahashi.

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: NYCB Theater, Westbury, NY

Lineup: Sting & Jeff Hardy vs. Team 3-D, A.J. Styles vs. Austin Aries, Bobby Roode vs. James Storm street fight; Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels; Velvet Sky vs. Gail Kim for Knockouts title; Kurt Angle vs Wes Brisco; Joseph Park vs. Robbie E

Notes: TNA has a house show 37 miles from the East Rutherford, NJ, running the 3,000-seat theater that by all rights they should sell out given the weekend, the lineup, and it being the first house show in the U.S. they’ve ever done with both Hulk Hogan and Sting appearing. The Aries vs. Styles singles match is believed to have been their first singles match since Styles became a TNA headliner.

When: Friday, 7 p.m., iPPV live at www.InvictaFC.com

Where: Ameristar Casino, Kansas City

Lineup: Jessica Penne (10-1) vs. Michelle Waterson (10-3) for Atomweight (105 pound) championship; Vanessa Porto (15-5) vs. Barb Honchak (7-2) for flyweight (125 pound) championship; Cris Cyborg (10-1, 1 no contest) vs. Fiona Muxlow (6-2), Zoila Frausto Gurgel (12-2) vs. Jennifer Maia (6-2); Sarah Kaufman (15-2) vs. Leslie Smith (5-2-1); Lauren Taylor (5-0) vs. Kaitlyn Young (7-7-1); Bec Hyatt (4-2) vs. Jasminka Cive (5-0); Julia Budd (4-2) vs. Moollie Estes (1-1); Jessasym Duke (2-0) vs. Miriam Nakamoto (1-0); Katja Kankaanpaa (7-0-1) vs. Juliana Carnerio Lima (5-0); Alex Chambers (3-1) vs. Jodie Esquibel (3-0); Rose Majunas (1-0) vs. Kathina Catrou (2-0); Cassie Rodish (4-3) vs. Simona Soukupova (3-2).

Notes: The biggest all-women’s MMA show in U.S. history goes on iPPV (details in Shannon Knapp story elsewhere in this issue), including the return of Cris Cyborg after her one year suspension for failing a steroid test. The Cyborg vs. Muxlow winner is expected to headline the next show, in late June or early July, getting a shot at featherweight champion Marloes Coenen. This is truly an international show with fighters from all over the U.S., as well as Brazil (Porto, Cyborg, Maia, Lima), Australia (Muxlow, Hyatt, Chambers), Canada (Kaufman, Budd); Austria (Cive), Finland (Kankaanpaa) and England (Soukupova).

When: Friday, 6 p.m. autograph signings, 8 p.m. wrestling, iPPV at www.highspots.com

Where: Sports Plex in Metuchen, NJ

Lineup: New Jack vs. Necro Butcher, John Morrison vs. Jushin Liger, Kevin Matthews vs. Anthony Nese for PWS title, Alex Reynolds vs. Trent Barreta for Tri-States title, Hurricane Shane Helms & Starman vs. Chris Chetti & Nova, Pat Buck vs. Tommy Dreamer, Lance Anoia vs. Sonjay Dutt, Drunken Swashbuckler vs. The Sheik vs. Devon Moore vs. Cassidy Riley vs. Micah Taylor vs. Bonesaw

Notes: A plethora of names besides those listed will be making autograph appearances about 30 miles from East Rutherford, NJ on this show, including a rare East Coast appearance by Superstar Billy Graham, plus Bret Hart, Big Van Vader, The Iron Sheik, Tom Prichard, Ricky Morton, Robert Gibson, Lita, Paul Orndorff, Sabu, Carlito, Eugene, Bill Apter, Shelly Martinez, Ray Apollo as Doink the Clown, Amber O’Neal, Kevin Sullivan, Mike Knox and Doc from TNA. This is billed as New Jack’s retirement match.

When: Friday, 4/5, 4 p.m., live iPPV at www.WWNLive.com

Where: Meadowlands Convention Center, Secaucus, NJ

Lineup: Evolve title tournament plus Young Bucks vs. Super Smash Brothers, Johnny Gargano & Brian Kendrick vs. Orange Cassidy & Drew Gulak, Arik Cannon vs Scott Reed no DQ.

Notes: Evolve crowns its first champion in a unique tournament. There are eight seeds, based on record in Evolve competition thus far. Top seed Chuck Taylor gets a first round bye, and will meet the winner of a four-way with Rich Swann, Samuray del Sol, Sami Callihan and Jigsaw. Second seed Ricochet gets a bye, and meets the winner of the first round AR Fox vs. Jon Davis match. The winners of the two second round matches then meet for the championship.

When: Friday, 4/5, $14.95 regular PPV, check local listings for time

Where: Taped January 12 in Orlando at the Impact Zone

Lineup: Christian York vs. Jimmy Rave vs. Matt Bentley vs. Puma vs. Lince Dorado vs. Alex Silva vs. Sam Show in an X-scape the cage match; Anthony Nese & Rashad Cameron (Jeez in CZW) vs. Doug Williams & Kid Kash; Chavo Guerrero Jr. vs. Robbie E; Kenny King vs. Zema Ion vs. Rubix (Jigsaw from CHIKARA) vs. Mason Andrews (Scorpio Sky); Sonjay Dutt & Petey Williams vs. Christopher Daniels & Kazarian; Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn in a no DQ match; Samoa Joe vs. Austin Aries

Notes: TNA’s first taped PPV show is probably debuting the worst weekend possible. The show features the last-ever Van Dam vs. Lynn match. Reports on the three-hour show is that it was nothing special, but Dutt & Williams vs. Daniels & Kazarian and Joe vs. Aries were both good matches.

When: Friday, 4/5, 8 a.m. Eastern (that’s 5 a.m. West Coast), iPPV at www.onefc.livesport.tv

Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore

Lineup: Kotetsu Boku vs. Shinya Aoki for lightweight title; Melvin Manhoef vs. Brock Larson, Jens Pulver vs. Masakatsu Ueda; Kevin Belingon vs. Thanh Yu; Arnaud Leponit vs. Eddie Ng, Rene Catalan vs. Alex Silva, Leandro Isse vs. Yusup Saadulaev, Bashir Ahamd vs Shannon Wratchal.

Notes: Asia’s leading MMA promotion used former Japanese stars Aoki and Manhoef, plus former UFC fighters Pulver and Larson as headliners from the site of one of the 1984 Ric Flair vs. Harley Race title changes.

When: Thursday, 4/4, 8 p.m. prelims on Spike.com, 10 p.m. on Spike TV

Where: Oration Hall at Revel in Atlantic City, NJ

Lineup: Spike.com fights - Darrel Horcher vs. Phillipe Nover, Shedrick Goodridge vs. Sam Oropeza; Carlos Brooks vs. Tom DeBlass; Brien Kelleher vs. Jimmie Rivera; Michael Hess vs. Will Martinez; Liam McGeary vs. Anton Talamantes; Kevin Roddy vs. Brylan Van Artsdalen; Lyman Good vs. Dante Rivera; Spike TV - Rick Hawn vs. Karo Parisyan; Frodo Khasbulaev vs. Mike Richman in the featherweight tournament final; Brett Cooper vs. Doug Marshall in the middleweight tournament final; Pat Curran vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev for the featherweight title

Notes: The promotion finishes its first season on Spike TV with two tournament finals and a strong championship fight, as Shamhalaev has looked strong since coming to Bellator. Bellator hasn’t knocked them dead as far as creating new interest or having new stars really break through. The first season is notable for huge upsets, most notably in the light heavyweight division where big names Renato Sobral and King Mo Lawal were primed to face off in the finals and both were knocked out before they got there. Bellator has finished ahead of most ratings projections (most were 650,000 to 675,000 per week, and the range has been, after the first week, has been from 700,000 to 825,000), and had good action fights. It’s still unclear how much of the ratings are based on interest in Bellator and how much they are propped up from having Impact as the lead-in.

But the tournament championship fights thus far have not seen ratings increase.

When: Thursday, 4/4, 6 p.m. autograph show; 8 p.m. matches, live on iPPV at www.highspots.com

Where: Sports Plex in Metuchen, NJ

Lineup: Kevin Matthews vs. Colt Cabana for PWS title, Alex Reynolds vs. Starman for Tri-States title, Jushin Liger vs. Davey Richards vs. Tony Nese, John Morrison vs. Elijah Burke (formerly Pope D’Angelo Dinero in TNA); Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson vs. Mark & Jay Briscoe; Trent Barreta vs. Sonjay Dutt; Kevin Steen vs. Dan Maff; plus 30 man Battle Royal.

Notes: Others appearing on the show will be Big Van Vader as commissioner, plus Superstar Billy Graham, Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff.

It’s would be difficult for anyone who knew Ric Flair to write or discuss the death of his youngest son, 25-year-old Richard Reid Fliehr, who had been wrestling and training the past few months with All Japan Pro Wrestling.

I don’t think there could be anything worse in this world than to lose a young child. In this case, the tragedy can be magnified. In this case, father and son had an unusual bond, as frequent training partners and in son trying to emulate the father.

Worse, in the absolute worst nightmarish situation, it was Ric Flair and girlfriend Wendy Barlow (formerly Fifi the Maid), who had the door opened in Reid’s room at about 10:35 a.m. at the Residence Inn in Charlotte on 3/29, when Reid didn’t answer a call as they needed to head to the airport.

They found him blue and unresponsive. Ric called 911 in a panic. EMT’s arrived within five minutes, but he had already passed away.

Ric and Reid were scheduled go to Maryland, where Ric would do autograph signings for Big Time Wrestling in Hagerstown, MD and Altoona, PA the next two nights, while Reid would wrestle. Then they would head off to WrestleMania, where Reid would see his older sister wrestle at the Fan Axxess.

I can’t imagine how Ric Flair could ever be the same, not just having to witness what he did, but having to do so while being helpless to do anything.

Reid Fliehr had a major problem, one that he never could fully overcome, which came out publicly in 2009 when he crashed his car and police found black tar heroin inside. Heroin is arguably the most addictive drug there is. Reid was not a typical addict in the sense the belief was he was often clean from the hard drugs for long periods of time, but then, the nightmare would came back, often with dire consequences. Reid had a best friend who overdosed and died. Reid himself was lucky to be alive on more than one occasion. He was sent to expensive rehab, but it remained a constant battle. He’d win the daily battle more often than not, but on the days he didn’t win, he lost big.

One would think that, given the track record of pro wrestlers, particularly those whose fathers were big stars, that the worst thing for someone who was already battling those issues to do would become a pro wrestler. Many who have never drank or did drugs before getting into pro wrestling become messed up. And the general rule is whatever vice people do come in with, becomes magnified through the pro wrestling lifestyle. Ironically, this was the rare case where it was the best thing for him, or at least it was with All Japan, since he was far away from his bad influences.

Reid loved pro wrestling, his girlfriend and his family. Ric arranged for him to be sent to All Japan, where he was originally supposed to train in the dojo. He did well enough the first night, in late January, when he replaced his father, whose leg had swollen badly from the blood clot, teaming with Keiji Muto, against Seiya Sanada & Tatsumi Fujinami. From that point on, they didn’t just train him, but also had him wrestle in prelims every night.

He got nothing but positive reports as far as his behavior, his training, and his progression in the ring. On 3/15, he was given a singles win over Yasufumi Nakanoe, which showed how much All Japan felt he had progressed. Two days later, in what ended up being his last match, on the big show at Tokyo Sumo Hall, he wrestled in the second match, teaming with Kenso against older veterans Osamu Nishimura & Masa Fuchi, who were there to help teach him. He was a good athlete, but still raw. Even though it had been four years since he had started, Japan was the first chance he had to ever work on a full-time regular basis.

He flew home on 3/24 for the Easter holidays, and WrestleMania. Those close to him were very concerned about him coming to Charlotte, because he had bad influences around him, most notable being the son of a pro wrestler who was the worst influence possible.

He had talked of moving out of Charlotte with his girlfriend, who had taken a job in Charleston, SC. He was looking at starting up a personal training business there while at the same time pursuing pro wrestling.

On his first day after he arrived back in Charlotte, he called up friend Jose Rodriguez, a local independent wrestler, and they trained the next two days even though it was supposed to be his down time. He told friends he was worried about his father, who was hospitalized with a blood clot that he’d apparently had for a couple of months. He took the next day off because he wanted to spend it with his father, who was recovering from a hospital visit for a blood clot.

He and Ric were together on Thursday until about 1:30 a.m., when Ric went to sleep. Evidently, instead of going to sleep, Reid evidently went back out. At this point, the autopsy hasn’t revealed anything, other than no foul play was involved. It may be weeks, or even months, before all the testing comes back, and the actual answer of what happened later that night will come out.

For the past two decades, I would guess that 70 percent, at least, of the conversations I’ve had with Ric Flair have included a discussion of how Reid was doing. It was his favorite subject to talk about, no matter how pressing issues were with him, the business or the world.

Ric Flair had four children. The two oldest, Megan and David, were born and mostly raised in Minneapolis by his first wife, while he was running around being Ric Flair. It was a conflict, because he felt guilty when he wasn’t there for birthdays and holidays, but in those days, being the top star in the Carolinas, and later NWA world champion, was a 365-day a year job of travel, main events and parties.

By the time his two youngest children, Ashley, who is now working for WWE, and Reid, were growing up, the schedule was lighter and his kids were raised in his house with him there. Ric Flair’s life revolved around his own wrestling, but just as much, perhaps more, raising his kids and attending their sports events. Ashley was a top athlete, particularly in volleyball, while Reid was at one time among the best wrestlers in his age group in the country.

When Reid was 10, he won the national championship in his age group in wrestling, at a tournament in Fargo, ND . At about the same time, Ric was to take Reid to another tournament, and at the last minute he was called by WCW to do a taping of Thunder. He refused to cancel his previous plans, and it resulted in him being fired and sued by WCW, although it was settled and he came back a few months later in one of the more memorable moments in the history of Nitro with the return of the new Four Horsemen. Ric had hired T.J. Jaworsky, a three-time NCAA champion and 1995 Hodge Trophy winner, probably the best wrestler at the time in the Carolinas, to coach his son.

Reid was brought in twice by WCW for gimmick matches on Nitro, once against Eric Bischoff and another time teaming with Ric against Vince Russo & brother David Flair.

Ric loved to talk about how Reid’s weightlifting and wrestling were going, and how some day he’d be a huge star in pro wrestling. It broke his heart and frustrated him because Reid would be clean for long periods, and then something bad, often very bad, would happen. Reid blew his chance in WWE, and then was arrested right before he was going to start in ROH, ending his chances that they would start him out, which was among the reasons Ric lost interest in the promotion.

He did well in high school wrestling but also had a temper. There was an incident in the North Carolina state tournament, where he lost in the finals as a junior, and his opponent mocked him, going “Whoo!” after winning and Reid attacked him.

Ric later sent Reid to Blair Academy, a private school in New Jersey, arguably the best wrestling high school in the country. But that was tough for a 17 year old who didn’t want to be away from his friends. After that, he spent a semester at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga trying to walk on at the wrestling team, but that didn’t work out.

Ric’s goal for Reid was to go to college, wrestle in college, and then start pro wrestling. Instead, at 20, Reid started pro wrestling, by his own choice, working independent dates in the Carolinas. Having the Flair name would have got him into WWE immediately. In fact, the deal was done, but WWE, recognizing there was a problem, had to back off at the time.

On 4/5, The Invicta Fighting Championships continues to try and answer the question of whether an all-women’s MMA promotion is financially viable as a business, presenting what is probably the single deepest show of its kind ever held in the United States.

The company’s fifth show features two championship fights, with atomweight (105 pound) champion Jessica Penne facing Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson and a match to determine the first flyweight champion with Vanessa Porto facing Barb Honcak.

But the biggest names are on the undercard. The show features the return to action of Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, who was considered the best female fighter in the world before her drug suspension, and is back inaction after 16 months. Santos facing a late replacement in Australian Fiona Muxlow .

Sarah Kaufman, a UFC fighter who is that group’s No. 2 contender at bantamweight, faces Leslie Smith. And former Bellator champion Zoila Frausto Gurgel goes against Jennifer Maia.

It’s essentially the one-year anniversary, as Invicta ran its debut show on April 28, 2012. The first year was all about trying to get the promotion and its fighters exposure through free Internet streaming of every show. The most recent show was the first attempt to run a pay-per-view through the Internet. There were technical issues early, and Invicta President Shannon Knapp decided quickly that rather than create bad feelings, they would take down the firewall, let everyone watch it for free, and refund everyone’s money who purchased the show.

But in the black cloud, there was a silver lining.

“You don’t know how many people there were who told us they didn’t want their money back,” said Knapp. “We still refunded all the money, but that reaction makes you want to do the best you can.”

So they will try an Internet pay-per-view, for $9.95, but this time using a much more expensive satellite feed, instead of streaming the show. With them going to that expense, the question becomes why not do it on PPV. But there were issues, including TNA already having that night booked. Knapp also said isn’t looking to rush things.

“It’s probably an old mindset, but I’ve always been of the understanding and the way of looking at it that if you go to pay-per-view before you’re ready, you take a real gamble,” Knapp said. “And I wasn’t comfortable with it at this time. I didn’t want to push the envelope. I want to make sure that if when we make that move, you get one shot. I didn’t want for it to be at this point in time. I just think we’re in the process of building and it’s a little premature for us at this point.”

In many circles, and I’m constantly reminded of this before every show, Invicta shows, even without any television, draws more interest and hits on the leading MMA news web sites than any promotion short of the UFC. But being talked about a lot, and getting lots of web hits is all well and good. But it doesn’t pay the bills, and ultimately, at some point, this has to be viable economically or it won’t exist. And nobody has ever been able to make pay-per-view of MMA viable over the long haul except UFC. And UFC really wasn’t making it until they had a regular television deal with Spike.

This week’s show at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City has, by far, the company’s best advance of its short history, but Knapp also makes clear that even then, you’re talking hundreds, not thousands, of tickets sold.

Ultimately, the success or failure of this concept is going to be determined by television. That is, both getting a viable deal that pays enough and gives exposure enough to open doors to sponsors and make the fighters into stars, and once getting that deal, being able to garner the ratings necessary to stay on the air.

What has been proven is a woman’s fight can help ratings on an otherwise all men’s show. A night of nothing but women’s fights is uncharted waters. The advantage Invicta does have over any other promotion in the marketplace is that they will have much of the top tier of women’s fighters. While it’s inevitable that the biggest stars will end up in UFC, the UFC at this point is not going to run a lot of women fights, just championship fights and fights to create a top contender.

Right now the only ones on the schedule are Miesha Tate vs. Cat Zingano on 4/13 in Las Vegas, to create the next challenger for Ronda Rousey, and 2004 Olympic wrestling silver medalist Sara McMann, who headlined the last Invicta show, vs. Sheila Gaff on 4/27 in Newark, NJ, to start building McMann’s name for a title match.

But since Invicta works with UFC, a lot of the challengers for titles going forward are likely to be picking up the wins that make their name on Invicta shows, if the relationship continues the way it’s structured. In addition, women who have been on UFC shows, likely with the exception of the champions and two or three biggest stars, are likely to also fight on Invicta shows.

But Knapp said it’s not just about getting on television, as they probably could get some form of TV right now. It’s about having a deal where they would be more than just filling time or being one of a group of MMA promotions on a station, such as the Friday night time slot on AXS which airs a number of different companies.

“We’re having a lot of dialogue with a lot of people,” Knapp said regarding television. “There hasn’t been the deal yet that I wanted and what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a partner, not someone who says you can be one of a number of shows on Friday night. You want someone to help with the vision and take an interest in promoting it, not be one of many companies on the station.”

There are key meetings going on after the next show, and the deal they are looking for may be on the near horizon.

“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people in 2013,” she said. “Nothing is concrete. Something could fall through. But there are a lot of good things happening with Invicta and a partnership. I feel confident 2013 is the year we’ll find our home.”

The one that would make the most sense is Showtime. It was well known that when Strikeforce folded, Stephen Espinoza, who runs sports at Showtime, had spoken of Invicta as someone they were talking about. There was an attempt made by Showtime to get Ronda Rousey, since Showtime felt they had created her as a star on their broadcasts, once it was clear Strikeforce was going down. If they had signed her, they would have built an MMA promotion around her. It’s not a lock Invicta would have been that promotion, but it would have made sense to be.

But since then, Showtime has spent heavily on boxing, including the contract to sign Floyd Mayweather Jr. When it became inevitable Strikeforce was going down, those close to the situation told us not to be surprised if they just take the budget for Strikeforce and put it into boxing, and clearly, with running so many big boxing events now, some of that is what happened.

But MMA was successful programming for the station. Backing a men’s group would be tough since World Series of Fighting has signed with NBC Sports and Bellator is owned by Spike. Virtually every marquee name is in UFC, and the few that aren’t are in WSOF and Bellator. The choices would be to work with people who would start bidding for talent from those three groups when contracts expire, which would mean a lot of financial outlay, or go with Invicta but have it be all-women. Then, you have the other issue where Invicta and its UFC relationship could have issues, as would Showtime want to promote fights and have the top ones then go to UFC PPV shows to face Rousey or whoever the champion is? But Invicta is running five weight divisions, not one, and if they get a broadcast deal for 8-10 fights per year, would have five championship divisions.

Right now she’s looking at doing four-to-six shows a year until a television deal is in place. The plan for the next show to be in late June or the first week of July. The goal is to run on Saturday’s when there isn’t a UFC show, but often that’s difficult with so many UFC events. This show is the first one on a Friday, which has not been a good day for MMA at least on television, because UFC has every Saturday booked this month.

The goal for now is also to stay in Kansas City, where they know their costs and have familiarity with the market.

She said the key of what they’re trying to do is to allow women to fight at their best weight class. The 13-fight card will have women competing from 105 to 145 pounds. She wants to create a venue to where you don’t see a natural 125-pound women trying to bulk up to face someone at 145 simply because that’s the only way to get a fight, as has happened in the past. That differs from UFC, where all fighters, regardless of their natural size, are at this point going to be fighting at 135.

Kaufman being on the bill shows how, unlike most other promotions, that have any kind of a following, UFC doesn’t consider Invicta as an enemy. Right now the sides have a working relationship. UFC doesn’t have enough slots on its shows for women fighters to keep all the women under contract busy. So, like in this case, they offered Kaufman to Invicta. It’s a similar deal that was proposed for Santos, but things didn’t play out that way.

“Having a good open relationship with them is positive for both sides,” said Knapp. “I think we’re moving forward in the working relationship. They respect what I’m doing and I respect what they have done. It’s easy to have that kind of relationship.”

The deal was such that Knapp told all her fighters that if they were interested in trying out for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, that they wouldn’t stand in their way, nor would there be any hard feelings.

Right now, she works with Sean Shelby, who is the matchmaker for the UFC’s women’s division as far as who would be available on what dates.

Originally, the idea when it comes to Santos was for UFC, which had her under contract, to allow Invicta to use her for a period of time, allowing her to get in some fights while she tries to slowly drop weight since UFC is only doing a 135 pound weight class. But Tito Ortiz, Santos’ manager, decided against working with UFC, at least for now, and asked for Santos to be released from her contract.

“Dana (White) asked me if I’d be interested if they would pay the purse for Cyborg, and if we’d put her on our cards until they were ready to bring her in,” Knapp said. “It’s a no brainer, of course. Part of the deal was also that they were going to help promote the event. But the deal between UFC and Cris fell through and it wasn’t going to happen. That was the end of the communication with Zuffa regarding Cris. That happened on a Thursday. I waited for one week and then reached out to her to sign her to Invicta. It took me two hours to get the deal done.

“Athletes change their mind a lot, and out of respect for Cris and to give her some time to think, I didn’t approach her right away. I gave them plenty of time to think about the situation, but after a week, there was no movement.” But with Santos, the steroid issue, which Knapp admits is a major one, faces the company head-on. Knapp said that the Missouri Athletic Commission will be testing some fighters before weigh-ins, some after weigh-ins, and some more right after the fight.

There is a feeling that steroids are worse in women’s MMA because they make an even bigger deal of competitive difference.

“It’s a double whammy and a double standard, no different from the guy who sleeps around and how he’s viewed or the girl who sleeps around. That’s what you see with the idea steroid use is so much worse with the women. I think it’s the same across the board. The commission didn’t say you have to do this. I went to the commission and said we’d like to implement this process and they were very supportive.

“When we brought Cris in, we made the decision she will be tested more than any other athlete, and her opponent will be as well, because we won’t do one without the other. It’s a huge problem in the sport, period. We’re not in the position to do the things the UFC does, but anything we can do to alleviate these issues, we want to do.”

Knapp had worked previously with the UFC, IFL, King of the Cage and Strikeforce. After Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, she decided in late October of 2011, to start the all-women’s promotion, something most were very skeptical of one when she first started talking about it.

But to a degree, luck was on her side with the rise of Rousey coinciding with her starting up. While Rousey was not involved with her organization, Rousey did create interest in women’s MMA, and made it suddenly come across as a lot more credible endeavor. Knapp said barriers against what she was trying to do were a lot more existent even one year ago.

“It’s helped the whole sport for females,” she said. “Anything that brings positive attention to the sport helps. The fight that she and Liz (Carmouche) had was a great performance by Ronda and a great performance by Liz. If there were naysayers, I think this had a very positive effect on the sport for females and still does.”

Knapp can to an extent view things from that point of view. She came into the sport when it was a men’s world, and noted she can identify with people who don’t think women should fight, as well as those who think it’s not a viable professional sport.

“We break down barriers every day, every time one of these athletes puts on a great performance, we change more people’s minds. I’m old school. It took me a long time to wrap my brain around the idea female athletes were legitimate athletes, and were talented at this, but they just hadn’t had the opportunity. I came from years and years of working with men. But coming from that position gave me all the tools to help with this promotion, to break down the barriers. It’s easier to identify with naysayers if you were one and you’ve changed your mind.”

But on the heels of Rousey, a second major media issue has surfaced with transgender fighter Fallon Fox, a situation Knapp has been aware of long before almost anyone else. But it’s an issue she struggles with.

“I knew about Fallon for quite some time and she’s not the only one, she’s not the only transgender athlete who has competed. We’ve never had one competing for us at Invicta, but there are others out there who have been competing. It’s such an uncharted territory. I’m not someone who ever judges people. I just feel I need to know more. I do believe the athletes competing have the right to know if their opponent is transgender. But it’s hard. Everything is so conflicting. If you listen to people very much supportive of gay rights they say there’s nothing wrong with her competing, she’s a female. The other side says it’s not right, and I feel like I’m stuck in the middle. I hear doctors say it’s okay, and other doctors say, `Wait second.’ It’s very confusing.”

She noted she’s happy it’s not a pressing issue, since Fox isn’t with Invicta, but also realizes it’s inevitable it will become an issue, and at least for now, her answer for now is to say she’ll abide by what athletic commissions say. She also admits the issue is so touchy that since it’s not her issue right now, whatever personal feelings she has she doesn’t want to talk about publicly yet.

“I don’t have a decision to make, because Fallon is signed with someone else,” Knapp said. “I haven’t spent a ton of time trying to make a decision because I don’t have a decision to make. She’s signed with someone else.”

But after a year, she’s also noticed differences in dealing with all women athletes instead of her years dealing with mostly men.

She said there has been a little more drama with managers trying to poach talent from other managers, and a lot of backstabbing from what which has created turmoil. She noted she’s spending more time settling fights out of the cage.

“Fights between talent and management, between management and management, there’s been a lot of drama,” said. “I don’t know why that is but I’ve never dealt with that.”

She said for the most part it’s the same as a men’s promotion, with the main differences being she sees women are more emotionally connected to what they’re doing, that overall they’re better at promoting themselves using social media, and on the flip side, she said it’s harder for women to cut weight. But she also said that overall, they’re more grateful to be there.

“I think they’re just happy to be here, they’re not divas yet,” she said. “They’re just grateful to have a shot. With men, there are a lot more opportunities.”

But she also said that may be just because the sport is in its infancy, as with experience, she said she can recall when she started in the sport, back in the 90s, the men more like that as well.

“I’m sure it’ll change,” she said. “If you talk to some of these women, one of the biggest setbacks to their careers is that they didn’t have the opportunities.”

But for now, it’s all about keeping those opportunities open until garnering the type of television that allows them to be viable. Then it’s about producing once they get there. And after that, there will likely be others trying to enter the marketplace, and all the issues that come from that. But for now, she’s either on the ground floor of creating the biggest platform women have ever had in the sport, or, Knapp will be in a situation she has familiarity with over the years, putting her heart and soul into building a promotion and a brand, and then, it goes away and having to once again start from scratch.

Donald Gatson, better known as Don Carson, a major star in smaller Southeastern territories and the answer to a major pro wrestling trivia question, passed away on 3/14, at the age of 77.

While a top heel for years, mostly in the Gulf Coast territory, Carson garnered his most national fame in 1970 and 1971, working in Southern California. He was first the tag team partner of Fred Blassie, and was later instrumental to Blassie’s babyface turn.

Even though he and Blassie were arch-enemies when he left the territory to work for Roy Shire, after their blow-off, in the first-ever Roman Gladiator Death match, he returned to Los Angeles in 1971 as a babyface to avenge the “career-ending” eye injury Blassie suffered in the famous Monsel’s powder angle with John Tolos.

Los Angeles wrestling was at a hot point in 1970, largely behind the local legend of Blassie and the rise of Mil Mascaras. The big shows, held every other Friday night at the Olympic Auditorium, were selling out with announced numbers often above 11,000 (in reality the place held right at 10,000 in those days). Frequently, for big matches, thousands of fans would be turned away.

Tolos had retained the Americas’ title that he won from Blassie on May 4, 1971, selling out every two weeks against a variety of babyfaces. Carson came back for revenge for his “good friend,” but Tolos avoided him for a few months until Carson won the title on July 16, 1971, before another sellout.

This led to the first closed-circuit pro wrestling show in history, on July 30, 1971, headlined by Carson, defending the Americas’ title against Tolos, in a Roman Gladiator Death match. The Gladiator death match had been done only once before in Los Angeles, as the blow-off of the Blassie vs. Carson feud a year earlier, producing a turn away sellout.

In those days, the Texas death match was considered the ultimate blow off match, because it was fought until the loser could no longer continue after a pin fall, and a rest period, if he couldn’t answer the bell.

The Roman Gladiator death match took it one step farther. In this match, there were no pinfalls, nor submissions, only a knockout finish. When one man was knocked out, his opponent would still have to administer the ultimate humiliation, to drag the loser’s limp carcass around the ring, and touch all four posts. This was before creative minds tried to gimmick these type of finishes to create fluke wins, and eventually, destroy the drawing power of the match.

Jeff Walton, who worked in the Los Angeles office at the time, created the Roman Gladiator death match in 1970 for the Blassie vs. Carson feud. The gimmick didn’t catch on in other territories other than it being used for a major Peter Maivia vs. Paul DeMarco match in 1971 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

The rules were that five fans who purchased tickets would be ringside judges, which actually made no difference because judging had nothing to do with the match. There was no time limit, no disqualification, no doctor stopping the match for any reason, no holds barred, no pin falls, no referee inside the ring, no submissions or surrender.

“I had seen `Swords of Sorcery,’ an old Hercules type movie and I got the idea from that,” said Walton. “I pitched it and they liked it. It was the Texas death match with the gimmick added of dragging the guy to all four corners. We didn’t need judges, but we announced fans would be judges. It wasn’t going to get that far, but we pushed that if you go down and buy a ticket, you could be a judge.”

The Mike LeBell promotion rented several movie theaters in downtown Los Angeles because of the demand for the Tolos vs. Carson match, alerting fans turned away at the door that they could see the matches there. Tickets in those days were $3 and $1.50 for kids for the closed-circuit, since it had only been done at that point for the biggest boxing matches, like the first Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight a few months earlier. It was uncharted water, and as the announcers broadcasted the shows, they had no idea if anyone was even watching at the theaters.

Carson had ended Tolos’ reign as champion on the previous show, but had not gained enough revenge, because for the fans, beating Tolos wasn’t enough because of what he did to Blassie.

“A few of our guys, we fed them to Tolos, and Tolos ate them up,” said Walton. “Carson was the next one.”

Carson’s role in this match was simple. He was a top name in the territory, a big enough star that on his previous run he got a few wins over Mil Mascaras, and had just won the title before a turn away crowd, and this show was so big it sold out well in advance to the point it was the talk of the town that night. But it was not about him. It was about Blassie vs. Tolos, and Carson’s role was to be the best friend who came for revenge, got a little satisfaction for the title win, but ultimately couldn’t do so. He wasn’t there to lose on some fluke finish like his trunks got pulled with the idea the heel would get heat.

He was there to get destroyed. There was no, “both guys struggling to get up at the same time, touching turnbuckles behind the others’ back and lunging for the fourth buckle,” dramatic finish. Tolos bloodied him up, left him on his back and unable to continue, and then dragged him around the ring to the ultimate humiliation. Even after that, Tolos continued to beat on Carson, until, to the shock of the announced 11,104 in the building and 4,120 more at the theaters, Blassie, with a patch over his eye and swinging a chain, hit the ring.

“The whole promotion, from the time of the angle, until the Coliseum was based on one guy after another coming in to get revenge for Blassie,” said another major wrestling personality who grew up in Southern California. “You can’t attribute the sellout or the closed circuit theaters to anything other than Blassie, even though he wasn’t even supposed to be on the card.”

“I have never heard such a thunderous roar in my life,” wrote Walton, who did the closed-circuit announcing of the show with Miguel Alonso, regarding Blassie’s return.

Fans had been told Blassie was blind in one eye and his wrestling career was over. Police grabbed Blassie before he got to the ring, and Tolos escaped. On television, Blassie said that he had regained 30% vision in his bad eye, and against doctor’s orders, he was returning to wrestling to get at Tolos, for their match four weeks later at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the night the promotion peaked, drawing 25,817 fans, which to this day is still the all-time California attendance record.

“We had to sneak Blassie into the building where nobody would see him,” said Walton. “Fred brought along a hidden chain. He started banging the chain on the floor of the building to get attention. The match itself wasn’t too long. It wasn’t spectacular. The whole idea was the finish, Tolos victorious and Blassie would surprise everyone and get after Tolos, and three-quarters of the way down the aisle, the police grabbed Blassie and held him. Tolos ran out the back door, never went to the dressing room, got in his car and sped off.”

The mentality behind the program was that Carson came in to get revenge for Blassie and succeeded at first by taking the title, making him stronger. That only made it a bigger deal when Tolos was injuring him as well. Carson was kept out of the territory for several months after this match, almost like a repeat of what fans remembered happened to Blassie in May, and now, it was Blassie’s return for not just himself, but now his best friend.

The interesting thing about Carson is that even though he was a headliner on numerous sold out events in Southern California, when he was out of the territory and waiting to return, he worked extensively for Roy Shire. In Northern California, he was almost never put over, usually working openers and doing television jobs.

He was a respectable jobber, almost always as a bleached blond heel, mostly doing struts and the Tennessee teased foreign object in the trunks shortcuts, which would explain why he didn’t get over for Shire, since Shire wouldn’t allow any of that stuff. Really, he was just a guy on the card, and while fine in openers, clearly didn’t have the in-ring talent of most of the wrestlers in the area. Really, nothing he did made him appear to be above the quality of a first match guy.

But part of it was that he never got the shot. He was a good talker, with his raspy voice which made him unique. In the ring, his Southern style shortcut heel tricks had limitations in a top worker territory like the one Shire ran. In addition, being tall and thin, at least thin by the standards of the usually thick wrestlers of that era, he didn’t have the kind of body people associated with tough guys. Wrestlers in that era in the big territories were all about the projection of being tough. In the smaller territories, like where Carson spent most of his career, the bodies were far less impressive or important. It was more about talking, cheap heel heat, insulting fans, and bloodier matches.

“Shire’s mentality is you had to be a good worker before he’d push you,” said Walton. “If you didn’t have it, he’d relegate you to underneath. Without being able to work at the top level, forget it. Don was not a really good worker. He could work okay. For Shire, working was first and foremost, and that was unusual for the time. Here, you had to be a good talker, Many guys, like Rip Hawk, guys who came here at that time, weren’t tremendous workers, but could talk. Really, his wrestling ability was nil.”

“We made our money on him based on how he spoke, plus working with Blassie, going against Tolos, in both cases you had two good speakers, able to get themselves over, and the Tolos feud, that was based on revenge for Fred. He did well for us in that respect.”

The funny part of Gatson’s career is that he started as a bleached blond wrestler, Ted Blassie, for promoters Tony Santos and Jack Pfefer in 1963 and 1964 in the Boston area. They ran shows billing wrestlers with knock off names of the biggest stars of the era, like Bruno Samnartino, Bummy Rogers, Hobo Brazil and such, trying to con unsuspecting fans into small-time shows. The reality is they did produce a lot of people who would go on to be top talent. As Ted Blassie, he held the area’s title for a time.

Originally from Ooltewah, TN, near Chattanooga, Gatson became Don Carson in Gulf Coast Wrestling in 1965. It was the name he used, with a brief exception as a masked man, Mr. C #1, for the rest of his career.

He captured the Gulf Coast heavyweight title from Ken Lucas on August 31, 1965, in Pensacola, losing it two weeks later in Dothan, AL, to future tag team partner Dick Dunn. He went to Georgia and captured the United States junior heavyweight title. But he worked mostly for Gulf Coast as a main eventer.

In 1967, his “younger brother” Ron Carson (a 20-year-old Dick Murdoch) was brought in, and they captured the Gulf Coast tag team titles three times that year. The Carson Brothers went to Tennessee and won that area’s version of the world tag team titles from Jackie Fargo & Len Rossi on August 9, 1967, in Nashville, before losing them five weeks later to the Hines Brothers, Billy & Jimmy, in Chattanooga.

He got heat by calling himself The Fabulous Don Carson, and doing the strut, which infuriated fans of “The Fabulous” Jackie Fargo, the master of the strut. The Carson Brothers with their blond hair, came across as the younger versions of the Fargos, who a decade earlier became the hottest tag team act the area had ever seen.

In 1968, after Murdoch went on to become a major star, using his real name, and forming a tag team with Dusty Rhodes, Carson started teaming with former rival Dunn, who worked under a mask as The Red Shadow. The two spent most of 1968 battling Dennis Hall & Lucas for the Southern tag team titles in Tennessee, holding the titles six times, including losing and winning them back in a Memphis feud with Fargo & Lou Thesz.

“I worked with him in the Louisiana/Mobile territory in 1966 and 1967, and in Southeastern in the mid-70s,” remembered Les Thatcher. “In fact, he and I worked an angle off my hosting TV there. He was great on the mic, and an average worker but got great heel heat.”

Carson & Dunn returned to the Gulf Coast area as a team, winning the Gulf Coast tag titles twice before Carson made a babyface turn, saving the area’s perennial babyface star, Rossi, from a beating by world tag team champions Johnny Long & Tojo Yamamoto, starting a feud. Carson & Rossi won the titles. Carson, as a face, also held the Gulf Coast belts twice that year with Lucas. Lucas & Carson lost the titles on October 3, 1969, to Rocket & Flash Monroe, in Dothan. Then, when Lucas & Carson had a match with The Spoilers (Lorenzo Parente & Joe Corea), The Spoilers’ manager, Saul Weingeroff, threw a fireball at Carson, injuring him, and he left the area.

A few days later, Carson was debuted on the live Wednesday night Olympic Auditorium television tapings in Los Angeles, billed as the Southern United States champion, beating the Yucatan Kid. This is where he garnered his most career fame since those shows aired nationally on the Spanish International Network.

Carson was brought in to the territory to form a tag team with Blassie, who was not hot on the idea, still resenting Carson for doing the Ted Blassie character for Santos and Pfefer. Apparently, it was Pfefer who sold the promotion on the idea on putting Blassie & Carson together as a blond tag team, a Southern California version of Ray Stevens & Pat Patterson, the country’s hottest team at the time, although obviously without the same in-ring ability. From the start, the idea was to align them and them split them up, because the decision was made to turn Blassie into the area’s top babyface. Although Carson was best remembered as Blassie’s partner, because of the Tolos angle a year later that was his career high point, they actually only teamed together for a few months, and were only there to have a heel for Blassie to feud with when making planned his face turn.

In his autobiography, Blassie still had resentment for Carson, to the point he knocked the idea, saying he didn’t like the team, and how when they split up, it never drew money anyway. In reality, the opposite happened in their short program, which set Blassie up as the area’s top babyface, and a run of drawing sellouts and near sellouts every other Friday. Blassie vs. Carson would have hardly been classic wrestling matches, but those in the era remember the feud in great detail, in particular how much interest their bloodbath matches, in particular the Roman Gladiator death match, had.

Blassie wasn’t in the territory at the time Carson arrived, so they put him over strong, winning the Americas tag team titles with The Great Kojika (the current owner of Big Japan Pro Wrestling), in late 1969. Carson & Kojika first beat Nick Bockwinkel & Dr. Jerry Graham, then drew a near sellout 9,289 fans as the main event on November 7, 1969, losing via DQ against Mascaras & Rocky Johnson. They lost the titles on December 4, 1969, in Bakersfield, to El Medico #1 (Luis Hernandez, the stepfather who raised Gino Hernandez) & Pepe Lopez, but that was after Blassie had returned and the next step was set up.

Blassie & Carson’s first major show match as a team was December 19, 1969, losing to Johnson & Earl Maynard (the former Mr. Universe winner who came off placing third at Mr. Olympia to have a solid pro wrestling career) on a sold out show, with Joe Louis as referee. On January 16, 1970, Blassie & Carson beat Medico & Lopez to win the tag team titles on the undercard of the annually sold out Battle Royal show, which was traditionally the company’s biggest show of the year.

As champions, they beat Lopez & Medico, Johnson & Seiji Sakaguchi, Johnson & Pepper Martin, The Bavarian Boys and others.

Carson won the TV title from Pepper Martin, and also held the Pacific Coast title during that period. He got his first singles main event on a major Friday night show at the Olympic Auditorium on February 20, 1970, drawing an announced 10,363 fans in losing in an Americas’ title challenge to Johnson. The match that really drew the crowd was Blassie putting up his hair against the mask of Medico, with Blassie winning.

Blassie started a program with Johnson over the Americas title, and Blassie was wrestling clean, much to the consternation of Carson. Eventually, on March 25, 1971, they split up after an argument in a television interview.

“Blassie and Carson were extremely hot,” remembered Walton. “Really, Carson was a little bit above a midcarder, but teaming with Blassie gave him the impetus to get him into the main events. With Tolos, it was all about Blassie’s friend coming in to get revenge. Carson was a terrific talker. That was his strength. “

This led to three straight sellouts. The first, on April 3, 1970, drew a reported 11,786 fans, with Carson winning the bloodbath when Blassie was ruled too badly cut to continue. Two weeks later, before an announced 11,147, they went to a double count out. The third sellout, with an announced 11,989 fans, on May 1, 1970, ended the feud decisively, with Blassie winning the Roman Gladiator death match. He worked two more big shows in the territory, while he and Blassie took their Gladiator death match blow-off to the smaller cities. He lost to Mascaras on May 15, and his final shot before going to San Francisco, was losing the fall in a match where he teamed with The Sheik against Johnson & Bobo Brazil, with Blassie as referee, which drew 10,387.

While the numbers may have indicated Carson as a big draw, most in the area at the time chalk up his success as being in the right place at the right time, working with Blassie and Tolos when they were on fire. Anyone who would have faced Blassie en route to his turn would have sold out with him, and Tolos was so hot, the story in the industry was how “he even got two sellouts on top with Don Carson.”

Carson’s last Los Angeles run was in 1972. It was the angle where Black Gordman & Goliath, the area’s top heel tag team, split up, with Gordman going face. Gordman & Carson became the face team for bloody matches against Goliath & Kinji Shibuya. The feud ended when Goliath beat Gordman in a match where the loser would have to work for the winner, essentially turning Gordman back heel, and after Carson with a few partners lost to the revamped Gordman & Goliath, his run was over.

“He was a real good jokester, planned all kinds of practical jokes on people then,” remembered Walton. “He was a nice guy. He wasn’t a prima donna type. He did whatever the office wanted him to do and got it done. “

After leaving California in the summer of 1972 for his first tour of Australia, he only came back once more, for a major show on August 24, 1973 that was broadcast into Japan, where Carson was the replacement for Pat Patterson in a tag team match that was broadcast to Japan, losing to Antonio Inoki & Seiji Sakaguchi.

He and Dunn went to Australia in 1972 for Jim Barnett’s World Championship Wrestling. In early 1973, the Austra Asian tag champs were Dennis McCord (who later became Austin Idol) & Jimmy Golden, but Golden was announced as injured in the U.S., so Carson & Dunn beat Golden & Danny Little Bear to become champions. They lost to the Masked Medics (Bob Griffni & Dale Lewis), and regained the belts a week later.

In Australia, Carson & Dunn were best remembered for being the heel tag team champions that established locals Larry O’Dea & Ron Miller as the top area tag team. O’Dea & Miller had spent two years in the U.S. as an Australian team, but had never actually teamed in their native country since O’Dea was a career face and Miller was a heel. But they first beat Carson & Dunn in a non-title match, and followed with a title win on March 30, 1973, in Sydney. He came back in 1974 as a singles wrestler, not getting many main events, but still being high on cards, and later worked as a manager, doing the character he later did in the Southeast.

Carson cut back on wrestling for a few years, taking a job as a deputy sheriff in Cleveland, TN. Even when he was wrestling, Carson talked about how he didn’t want to travel from place-to-place and was looking for a steady job where he wouldn’t get hurt, and becoming a sheriff was his main goal. In California, he was always hustling, as in Los Angeles, he was one of the first people who would bring his pictures to shows and sell them, which was out of Tennessee. In those days, it was considered being too accessible, so most stars didn’t do it, even if there was extra money to be made. In Northern California, Shire forbade talent from being around the fans.

He had a major feud with Ron Wright, the area’s heel legend, turning him face in Tennessee in 1976 for Ron Fuller’s Southeastern Championship Wrestling. Carson didn’t do much in the ring by that point, but was a good talker, and relied on a loaded black glove, which he called “Peanut Butter,” using the claw as his finisher. Why putting an object in the glove would strengthen the claw is one of those mysteries of wrestling logic.

The angle was memorable. The two argued while doing an interview, and Carson sucker punched Wright, then loaded his glove and proceeded to land hard way shots on Wright. He punched Wright several times, shutting Wright’s eye. Wright coming out later in the show with his eye swollen shut, and having photos taken with it, led to a major program between the two.

Carson continued to wrestle for a few more years, mostly in Tennessee and Alabama, holding tag team titles with The Assassin and Dennis Condrey. He also worked in 1980 as part of the masked tag team called The Big C’s, teaming with Jerry Brown.

As a masked man, he started managing The Dream team of Randy Rose & Ron Bass, and was eventually unmasked. He remained in the business through 1983, managing the likes of Jos LeDuc and The Mongolian Stomper, the latter on national TV in Georgia. He did one last run as a wrestler in 1982 in Southeastern Championship Wrestling, forming a tag team with Punk Rock Wayne Ferris (Honky Tonk Man).

Carson’s manager role with the suits and puffy shirts was similar to the role J.J. Dillon would take a few years later, although Dillon was better at it.

His career ended in San Antonio. He was managing The Grapplers (Len Denton & Tony Anthony), who held the tag team titles. When The Sheepherders came to the territory, they had a heel vs. heel match with The Sheepherders. Carson turned on his team to help The Sheepherders take the titles, but after winning, The Sheepherders turned on Carson and beat him down. That may have been his final hurrah. He got a regular job in San Antonio, and eventually returned back to Tennessee. He wrestled Lucas in 1998 in Dothan, AL, but largely lived the last 30 years out of the spotlight.

One of the early memorable moments in UFC history was in the first round of the UFC 4 tournament in Tulsa, Okla., on December 16, 1994, when 36-year-old Dan Severn got behind the much smaller Anthony Macias.

Severn, dressed in black trunks and boots like the pro wrestler that he was, sent Macias flying with three straight belly-to-back suplexes, before choking him out in 1:45.

Severn, who at the time was a part-time pro wrestler, whose main job was working as a caterer. But he was the first true world class wrestler to compete in the UFC.

He went on that night to quickly submit Kung Fu master Marcus Bossett. This put him in the tournament finals against Royce Gracie, who by that time, after already winning two of the first three UFC tournaments, was the undisputed king of the sport.

That was also a classic match for its time as Severn immediately took down Gracie, who was nearly 60 pounds lighter, and pinned him to the ground for nearly 16 minutes. In his sport, wrestling, he won decisively, but this was a different game. Unlike his previous opponents, who put up little resistance to whatever rudimentary submissions Severn had, Gracie’s defensive guard was a different animal.

In those days, the show was billed as style vs. style, and Severn’s mentality was he was coming in to use his style, wrestling, a rougher version and taking leeway with tactics he knew, such as a choke or arm triangles, that he saw as part of his game even if they weren’t legal in a wrestling match. Mentally, he found it difficult to start throwing punches, something he had little training in, and something he didn’t think represented his sport.

There was no such word as mixed martial arts, unless you were talking about Japanese pro wrestling. It was just Ultimate Fighting, an almost underground pay–per-view cult phenomenon that was starting to gain traction in the deepest corners of the sports shelves at Blockbuster Video Stores.

UFC was a melting pot where guys from different sports backgrounds would test their styles in almost-anything-goes combat. Matches were fast, basically kill or be killed. Aside from Gracie, who was way ahead of the curve since he was taught from birth by his father, who started competing in a Brazilian version of the sport in the 1920s, and came from a family well versed in the style, nobody knew any defense.

There were no rounds, because, well, there didn’t need to be when matches usually ended in two or three minutes. There were no gloves, with the mentality being that in a real street fight, which this was supposed to replicate, you don’t have time to tape your fists and put gloves on. There were no time limits in matches, but there was no concern about the pay-per-view going long. The problem, if anything, was the fights were like a violent version of rushed sex. You get in, quick adrenaline rush, go as fast as you can and it’s over.

When Severn was still pinning Gracie, the show went past the three hour mark. For most of the 120,000 or so homes that purchased the event on pay-per-view, the screen suddenly went blank with the last vision being Severn still on top of Gracie.

Unless you knew a friend in one of the few cable companies where someone working for the company was actually watching the show, and made the adjustments to allow the show to continue until it was actually over, you likely would have assumed Severn ended up winning.

Gracie locked a triangle on Severn, who tapped out at 15:49. Without question, by surviving against a much bigger and stronger man, while on his back, it was the match that, more than any other, made Gracie’s legacy.

After it was over, Gracie walked over to Severn, went to hug him, and whispered in his ear, “You’re the toughest man I’ve ever gone against.”

“Through all the stuff I was doing with the Ultimate Fighting Championships, when I started it, I never knew how long it would last,” said Severn. “I never looked at this like a career. I took one match at a time. If you told me then that I’d be doing this at 54, I’d say, `You’re freaking nuts.’ But it worked out that way. The key is, I haven’t been seriously injured, and I haven’t been seriously damaged. I’ve got good health and been smart in my matches, and it let me go out on my own terms.”

While Severn did lose to a smaller man, it was a lesson he learned from. At the next UFC show, on April 7, 1995, in Charlotte, Severn, now called “The Beast,” tore his way through three competitors in nine minutes total time to win the next tournament on what was, at the time, the most successful non-boxing sports pay-per-view event of all-time.

That night solidified Severn was one of the sport’s big four early superstars. The other three were Gracie, Severn’s biggest rival, Ken Shamrock, and the popular David “Tank” Abbott, who fans loved, but whose bark was far more dangerous than his bite.

But age was working against him. Severn was competing without an ACL in either knee, both done in by his amateur wrestling career that left him with bone chips, bone spurs, five knee surgeries and advanced arthritis in the joints. Given those issues, after that fight, he was only able to fight another, well, 17 years.

“My surgeon has photos of both of my knees on his wall, autographed,” Severn joked. “He said that I shouldn’t even be walking, let alone competing.”

He went on to have more success in UFC after winning the UFC 5 tournament. Relying on his wrestling base, as a superbly conditioned heavyweight, he fought 52 minutes in one night without tiring in winning three fights over Paul Varelans, Abbott and Oleg Taktarov, to capture the 1996 Ultimate Ultimate tournament. At the time it was the biggest tournament in the sport’s history.

He followed that by beating Shamrock in a fight that became legendary for how it was possible to have only two minutes of action in a 30 minute borefest. He became UFC’s second singles champion, the title that morphed into the current UFC heavyweight championship. Eventually, he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, joining numerous other Halls of Fame he’s been inducted into between MMA, pro wrestling and for his exploits in amateur wrestling.

Severn publicly announced his retirement from MMA in an e-mail correspondence sent out as the clock struck midnight to end 2012. A year earlier, he had sent out a similar e-mail announcing that this was going to be his last year competing in the sport.

Severn hadn’t fought since April 28, when he defeated Alex Roxman by decision in Davenport, Iowa. He had no clue at the time it would be his last fight, but by October, had told those close to him that he realized it was.

It was listed as his 101st professional victory, although record keeping in the early days of the sport is hit-and-miss. His listed final career record is 101-19-7. Some of his listed wins may have been pro wrestling matches, and there are likely a dozen or two dozen wins, and possibly a loss or two, in fights that fell below the radar. He is believed to be in second place on the all-time wins list behind Travis Fulton, who is listed as having 247 wins in 307 fights.

“A conservative estimate is there are 15 to 20 wins that may not have been recorded,” said Severn. “I was doing fights long before there was a Sherdog or Full Contact Fighter data base. One day, when I have nothing better to do, which I’m hoping doesn’t come until I’m 90 or 100, I may look back at my planner to see how many fights I really had and what my record really was. There were times when they had recorded losses in fights I didn’t lose. Maybe, because of my age, I’m not as in tuned to looking at web sites.

“Companies were contacting me from all over the place. I had a pager. I’d get calls and have to be ready with 24 hours notice to get to the airport, to a destination I’d just found out about, transported to a location to be determined, against an opponent I just found out, with a purse I just found out. They were almost all an underground type of thing.

“Once, I had an opportunity to fight in Mexico. It was in a cockfighting pit. The idea of the show was to start with rooster fights, then do dog fights, and finish as the main event with human beings. This organization wanted no rules at all, and you could wear jeans and cowboy boots. I turned that one down. I thought, `I may win, but I may not get out alive.’”

Severn, who turns 55 on 6/8, still hasn’t retired from competing and performing. He said he will do one more year of pro wrestling, and retire from that genre. Like what he just did, he’ll likely be sending out an e-mail at the close of this next year announcing his retirement there. He has a son, now in seventh grade, competing in wrestling, so has considered the idea of training with him, and perhaps entering age group wrestling competition, given that competing in sports is something that he’s done since 1969 when he followed his older brother into wrestling.

But his immediate goals are to work both in the industry, whether it’s television commentary, working as a commissioner, he’s putting together a reality show with young fighters in late February, and is looking to up his business training law enforcement personnel in ground fighting techniques.

“I’m taking the skills I acquired over all these years and using them in a different principle,” he said, noting people can contact him at DanSevern.com for seminars and other work of this type. “All kinds of things are somehow related, motivational speaking, anti-bullying campaigns, different aspects of my career will come into play with stories I can tell and experiences I’ve had.”

Severn has strong beliefs regarding how he was able to still compete. While a decade removed from facing “A” level competition, the ability to go on an 11-fight winning streak between the ages of 51 and 53, against competitors who weren’t even born when Severn targeted his first sports retirement date in 1984, is nothing to sneeze at.

If there is a secret, Severn noted that his mentality would be the opposite of that of Chuck Liddell, who he noted was a guy who had a lot of spectacular knockouts, and also got knocked out spectacularly on several occasions.

“To utilize an old saying, you live by the sword, you die by the sword,” he said. “Liddell at one point was close to two records in UFC, knocking out the most people, and being knocked out the most. That’s not a dual record you want to have. Every time you get hit in the head, you will suffer some type of damage, even if it’s superficial. You can take blows to the body, but the head, no. The little piece of Jell-O called the brain isn’t meant too be jostled around like that.”

Severn advocates doing something that many top fighters, like Liddell, sneer at, which is, when in trouble and getting punched in the head on the ground, instead of taking the extra blows and having the referee stop it, to tap first.

“There are guys 15 or 20 years my junior, and you try too have a conversation with them, and it’s almost inaudible. Some can’t even complete a sentence and make a point. It’s a tough conversation. In today’s mixed marital arts matches, you don’t see actual tap outs from punches. You see one athlete will turtle up, and the other guy on top is picking angles and choosing his shots until the referee stops it. The mentality is that it’s more honorable to have a referee stop the fight than tap out to strikes. I think if you take a half-dozen or a dozen unnecessary shots, the problems may not show up right way, but they will show up over time. Even the damage I’ve received, maybe five to 20 years down the line, it may come to the surface.

“The key to my success is the theory of `duck,’” he said. “I haven’t really been hit that often in the course of my career. I did have a crazy number of matches but I wasn’t getting damaged.”

To understand Severn’s MMA career, you really have to go back to his amateur wrestling career. Growing up in Coldwater, Mich., he was part of a sports family. His father was a good athlete, although he never wrestled. But he followed his older brother into the sport, and the Severn family may have been the only family where five brothers were all All-American wrestlers in both high school and college.

“We all did so well the coaches tried to recruit my sisters, who were big, strong farm girls, to go out for the wrestling team,” he joked.

But Dan was the star, an absolute machine in high school. As a senior in 1976, he was national champion at 191.5 pounds in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, as well as, long before the Junior Dan Hodge Trophy existed, he was named the Outstanding High School wrestler in the nation. Before his 18th birthday, he was already ranked top six in the nation in the open division and placed in the Olympic trials.

As a freshman at Arizona State, he went 26-0, pinning five of six previous national place winners that he came across, and was ranked first in the nation, when he suffered a torn ACL late in the season.

“I was setting the world on fire,” he said, garnering far more media attention locally than amateur wrestlers in that era would normally get. “Every Tuesday morning, they would take me downtown to a press conference. That was standard for football players and basketball players, but not for a wrestler. I was 18 years old, and all these microphones would be shoved in my face. I wasn’t looking for attention. But I went to college for all the wrong reasons. I didn’t go for a degree. I was a high school wrestler who wanted to find out how I’d do at a Division I school. I didn’t think about school until I was injured and the surgeon said, `You will never wrestle again.’”

He came back two years later, minus one ACL. He was one of the best wrestlers in the country, but never fully regained the form he had at 18.

In 1980, he pinned three of four opponents in the NCAA tournament, before losing in overtime to Neil Lohan, in the finals. He qualified for the finals of the Olympic trials, but with the U.S. boycotting, didn’t compete, not interested in being a team member that would only be symbolic.

In 1981, he was part of one of the deepest heavyweight fields in NCAA tournament history, included future Olympic gold medalists Bruce Baumgartner and Lou Banach. Baumgartner was seeded first, Severn second and Banach third. Severn lost in a crazy semifinal, 20-10, and Banach then pinned Baumgartner to win the title.

Severn started coaching at Arizona State, preparing to end his career with a run for the 1984 Olympic team in the 220-pound weight class. Even decades later, those in amateur wrestling talk about what happened. With Severn, it led to a bitterness that wasn’t ever fully erased.

Severn and Banach were the top two wrestlers in the country, and were scheduled to meet in a best-of-three series to determine the U.S. rep in the Olympics. Banach won the first, Severn the second.

In the third match, there was a point of controversy as Severn was in control and put Banach on his back.

“There were three referees, and they were conflicted,” he said. “One thought I pinned him. One gave me points for back exposure. And one didn’t give me any points.”

After an intense debate, the referee who decided he hadn’t scored any points won out. With 50 seconds left in the match, instead of being a few points up, he was a few points down, and never caught up. He filed a protest, hoping to, at the very least, get one last match to solve the controversy. There was a precedent, as several other protests from those trials led to wrestle-offs for the Olympic team berth.

But he was turned down. At the time, the feeling was that Banach was the country’s best hope for a gold medal even though, as the best-of-three series showed, in a match between the two of them, there was no guarantee Banach would prevail.

“I would have retired in 1984 from competition had everything gone the way it should have gone,” he said. “I should have been on the Olympic freestyle wrestling team and I should have won the gold medal. Instead, I went to Los Angeles as the alternate, and saw the guy I thought I beat win the gold medal. It was really tough for me to swallow that. That’s what kept me going on.

“Lou was very good. Who is to say I would have won the third match, but if they scored the match correctly, I was winning at the time. Me, being a poor farm kid, I didn’t have the connections for attorneys. You kind of hate that in a sport you love so much that it would come down to politics, but that’s what it did.”

The result was Severn was more determined than ever. He followed with the three strongest years of his career.

“Realistically, you’d have to call it Dan Severn residue,” he said about himself at the age he entered the UFC, nothing he was already eight years past his athletic prime. “If you wanted to see a real animal, you should have seen me between 1984 and 1986.

“I had issues from being screwed over and I was never going to allow it to fall into the hands of officials again,” he said. “I hurt a lot of people in matches. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but I was being so intense. I was pinning people left and right. I ended a number of people’s careers with blown out limbs.”

He won a number of international tournaments and national titles over the next three years. In 1985, he placed sixth in the world championships. During his career he won 13 different AAU national championships between freestyle and Greco-Roman.

In 1988, he tore his other ACL prior to the Olympics, but he proudly notes that from 1976 to 1992, he was always in the top six in the nation every Olympic year.

Severn entered pro wrestling before there was a UFC. As silly as this sounds, until the early 90s, if an amateur wrestler went into pro wrestling, they were considered a professional athlete and thus disqualified from eligibility. Severn had considered pro wrestling as a way to make money, but after 1987 ruling by the International Olympic Committee that barred Japan’s freestyle champion, Yoshiaki Yatsu (who later fought for Pride) from international competition due to his pro wrestling background, Severn nixed the idea because he still had the Olympic dream. After the IOC reversed that position, Severn, who was still looking at doing one last Olympic run in 1996 until he became a UFC star, did some pro wrestling.

He became something of a name in Japan, working for a company called UWFI, that used a lot of American and Russian amateur stars doing a more believable style of worked pro wrestling. Severn actually appeared on UWFI pay-per-view events in the U.S. before he had ever heard of the UFC.

“In a lot of ways, it was a fluke,” he noted about being the first world-class amateur wrestler to enter the UFC. “At the time, a buddy of mine watched some VHS dates of the first two UFC’s. I was living in Coldwater, Mich. We didn’t even have pay-per-view capabilities. He brought over some old VHS tapes. I thought about doing it, but I saw people getting soccer kicked in the face and stomped. But then I saw Royce Gracie winning it as a grappler, and thought if I applied what I knew, I could use my skills to do well in this.

“In one of the martial arts magazines, UFC at that point in time was taking out full page ads asking people if they wanted to be a no-holds-barred fighter. So I filled out an application and sent it in.”

He sent in his resume, which was impressive with all of his amateur wrestling championships. There were forces in the UFC at the time who weren’t keen about bring in big amateur wrestlers, but Severn, at his age, was thought to be past-his-prime. He arranged a meeting with then-UFC matchmaker Art Davie, who was based in Southern California.

“I was in Los Angeles, on a pro wrestling show, and wrestled Hawk (of the Road Warriors tag team, one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling of the time). Art Davie came out, interviewed me, watched me in a pro wrestling match, interviewed me again, and the first thing he said was, `Do you realize what we do is real.’”

Severn found out about his first competition, in Tulsa, a few days beforehand. His training consisted of over the course of a few days, five 90 minute workouts in total, at the Lima, Ohio, pro wrestling school run by one of his buddies from that world, Al Snow. Snow and some of his proteges played a game called `Let’s try to hit Dan.’

They were in a pro wrestling ring. Snow, who had a marital arts background, along with several of his pro wrestling students worked out with Severn. They had one pair of boxing gloves in the gym, so two of the guys would each get a glove. The pro wrestlers came at him from all angles, trying to punch and kick him. Severn’s only training was to learn to avoid getting hit before tying up and taking the guys down with his wrestling skill.

“I trained some amateur techniques and some illegal moves in amateur wrestling, but I was just a wrestler,” he said about the first show. “It took me to the finals, but it cost me the championship. What I was doing wasn’t working on Royce Gracie. I kept thinking, `I’m going to have to hit this guy.’ I struggled more with my conscience than with my opponent. But it taught me a lesson when the match ended.”

Eventually, before the Ultimate Ultimate show at the end of 1995, he spent five weeks in the most intense training camp of his life, getting down to 242 pounds enabling him to out wrestle and outlast everyone in the competition.

Severn avenged an earlier submission loss to Shamrock, winning the UFC singles championship on May 17, 1996, at the famed Cobo Arena in Detroit, in what in many ways was the most successful and biggest UFC event to date. They did 240,000 pay-per-view buys and sold out the arena with 11,000 fans.

Both men had a game plan of to wait for the other to make a move, and then counter. So they stood there. And stood there. Unless you saw it, you couldn’t even imagine a fight like this. They circled. And circled. Fans were furious, throwing things, chanting for the Red Wings, and booing loudly.

Finally Severn tried to shoot in, Shamrock countered, and was on top in a mount position for about 90 seconds. But he did no real damage while on top. Later, there was a second scramble, this time Severn was on top, in a guard, but threw down punches for about 30 seconds, busting Shamrock up, before Shamrock escaped and got back to his feet. There was no action the rest of the fight. Judges somehow had to try and pick a winner, and Severn got a split decision.

But he lost the title in his first defense, against the younger and stronger amateur wrestler, Mark Coleman, on February 7, 1997.

Severn’s relations with UFC fell apart a few months later.

Kickboxer Maurice Smith had shocked the MMA world beating Coleman for the title, based more on superior conditioning than anything else. He was scheduled to make his first defense against Severn. Severn was the favorite, with the feeling he could take Smith down, and unlike Coleman, wouldn’t get tired and Smith wouldn’t be able to get up. And if he could, he’d be taken right back down. As it turned out, it was the exact strategy Randy Couture used on Smith to win his first UFC heavyweight title.

After agreeing to the title fight, in the days before exclusive contracts, Severn took a booking for the debut show of a fledgling Japanese organization, called Pride, which booked the Tokyo Dome for the biggest event of its kind in modern history of what would become MMA. Severn was booked against UFC star Kimo Leopoldo, as the No. 2 match on a show headlined by Rickson Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada, which drew more than 30,000 fans.

Severn’s goal was to make the big payday and avoid getting hurt, and he half succeeded. UFC wasn’t happy, but Severn, who had never been seriously hurt in an MMA fight, assured the company there was nothing to worry about. During the 30 minute fight with Leopoldo, he took so many low kicks that he was unable to face Smith. It wasn’t until three years later that UFC would book him again, as a late injury replacement against Pedro Rizzo, whose low kicks finished Severn quickly.

Severn continued to fight and do pro wrestling all over the world. He had a short run in the WWF, now WWE, and even wrestled current acting star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson once on a pay-per-view show. He garnered more fame as a pro wrestler in Japan, where he once headlined by baseball stadium show that drew 28,000 fans.

After his success in the early UFCs, Severn became a very popular figure in the amateur wrestling world, as, when Brock Lesnar was still in high school in North Dakota, he became the hero to kids growing up in the sport. He was the guy who first showed the world that wrestlers were among the toughest, if not the toughest fighters. Older pro wrestlers, particularly those who started out as amateur wrestlers or had backgrounds with submissions, hooking as it was called in that trade, but had nowhere to apply their skills to make money but pro wrestling, also revered him. He was the guy who proved them right after lifetimes of arguing with people about how wrestling isn’t a real fighting skill.

“A guy like Lou Thesz (one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars in history), someone like him, he’d have done really well in this,” said Severn. “There are a lot of guys in the circuit, Mike Rotunda, Kurt Angle, very successful amateur wrestlers. The guy who played at Oklahoma, Dr. Death (Steve Williams, who beat Severn in college and was a legend in Japan), he’s a tough guy all the way. Gary Albright, he was a collegiate wrestler from Nebraska. He was legit nasty kind of guy I think would have done very well at a different point in time. I think they all would have been successful at this in their younger and more competitive days.”

Unlike many who were there from the start, Severn said he’s not surprised at the level of popularity the sport has reached in its current very different form.

“Literally, when I first saw it, I could see how big it could get,” he said. “I was blown away that you could do this type of competition in the first place. After I got some old VHS tapes, I may have had it on and a friend would drop by, see it in the background, ask, `What are you watching,’ and I’d say, `This crazy thing called Ultimate Fighting, no holds barred.’ Usually they were just dropping by to say, `Hi,’ for a second. Two hours late, they’re still sitting on my couch. I was watching them more than I was watching the television. This happened repeatedly, the sport was so captivating. But it was a much different product than it is now. Now it’s been around long enough and people accept it as a sport. When it first began, it was more spectacle than sport. Today, you can see a lot of people don’t even know about this era of NHB. They just know the term MMA, and think it came from January 2005 when The Ultimate Fighter show debuted on Spike TV.”

For the past half-dozen years, he’s tried to go out with nostalgia fights based on the early UFC days, against Coleman, Shamrock and Gracie, but they never materialized.

“I did actually meet and speak with Ken and Mark face-to-face because I wasn’t going to let it fall through. You learn as you go through life that you can handle things better yourself than going through managers and attorneys. I would have stopped a couple of years ago if we could have pulled those matches off, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

He also notes that what’s important for the sport is having contrasting personalities, noting one of his favorite fighters is Georges St-Pierre, and he loves what he represents, but you can’t have a sport with nothing but GSP’s.

“I like the way Georges St-Pierre presents himself, the way his does his interviews, how he presents himself from a pure athletic standpoint, I love all the things he does and represents,” said Severn. “But from a promoters’ perspective and a fans perspective, I don’t want everyone to be Georges St-Pierre or it might be boring to watch. You need Rashad Evans trash talking. You need Brock Lesnar frothing at the mouth. You need different characters. A lot of these guys are realizing this more-and-more.

“Rashad, when he came on the scene, was as quiet as a church mouse. He wrestled at Michigan State and he came down to my place way back when. He did some matches with my promotion, Danger Zone. I helped him get his first pro fights and helped him get into The Ultimate Fighter show, and then he honed his skills more.”

He also helped start out Don Frye, who followed him as one of the sport’s early stars.

“Don Frye was one of my wrestlers at Arizona State. Randy Couture was also wrestling when I was coaching. Don came to me after he had seen UFC, asking if I could help him get into it. I’ve helped a few people. I may have helped him get his foot in the door, but he’s fully to credit for his success. Don ended up having much more success in his run in Japan in Pride and pro wrestling.”

Severn hopes to maintain an affiliation with the sport in a way that most of his contemporaries weren’t able to. He’s had limited interaction with UFC. He never worked for the current ownership group, and but made a few appearances, once for a Hall of Fame induction, and once when they went to honor the most popular fighters of the past.

“They’ve contacted me on a few occasions,” he said. “They’ve let me know that if I’d be in attendance at shows, tickets will be waiting for me, and I’ve taken them up on it on a few occasions. Lorenzo (Fertitta) and Dana (White) went out of their way to shake my hand. Now that I’m past my era of competition and will still be involved in the sport, in a different type of capacity, I’ve always been a goodwill ambassador.

“I’ve got no axes to grind with anyone,

“I’ve lived a charmed life,” he said. “I don’t look at this as sad. It’s tough for any athlete to be involved with something without having feelings about it. I’ve been very fortunate with my health. The way I’ve conducted myself, I’ve won over a lot of people. There were times after winning major events, e-mails and phone calls would come. That great positive support is something I’ll away cherish. Even in the last ten years, the amount of positive e-mails have inspired me.”

The first estimate for the 2/17 Elimination Chamber PPV from New Orleans was 160,000 domestic buys and 52,000 foreign buys for 212,000 total. The good news is that it would be the largest domestic number for a “B” PPV in a number of years.

The numbers were up 16% domestically from the 138,000 of last year, but down 7% internationally from the 56,000 of last year’s show, for an overall increase of 9%.

The bad news is that the main event was The Rock vs. C.M. Punk for the WWE title. What is clear is putting Rock and Brock Lesnar on “B” shows will help their numbers. But it won’t help their numbers enough to justify a seven-figure main event payday. The WWE revenue difference between the two shows

looks to be this year’s show being up $324,000 or so, and the added expenses are likely way into seven figures. But that isn’t a surprise. Realistically, nobody was going to expect Rock to pay for himself on this show. At the Rumble, sure, you could go in expecting it, but we’ve already seen with Survivor Series last year what Rock on a “B” show does. This was about telling a story and Chamber was a loss leader in the story being told, for Mania, which is where Rock and Lesnar are expected to pay for themselves.

The 2011 show did 145,000 domestic and 67,000 overseas, and in 2010, the show did 160,000 domestic and 127,000 overseas.

The last time Rock worked a non-major, the 2011 Survivor Series, the show was the least profitable WWE PPV in years, and that’s with doing 179,000 domestic buys and 133,000 more overseas. This show is likely to come somewhat close to the domestic number, but is unlikely to reach half the foreign total. Plus, Rock as champion defending against Punk should in theory mean far more than Rock & John Cena as a team, something nobody at the time wanted to see, against The Miz & R-Truth, two guys that the public didn’t take seriously as opponents for them. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise given that it was the m middle of the three shows Rock was working. Everyone knew the big one was Mania. It’s got nothing in this case to do with Punk, although some will jump to the conclusion that it shows Punk can’t deliver big numbers even with Rock. It’s more about the idea that with so much free television, there are only so many people who are going to buy a PPV, unless it’s Mania, Rumble or SummerSlam. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a dream match like Lesnar vs. Cena, nor Punk coming off momentum of an interview everyone talked about, or Rock defending the WWE title.

On the flip side, there was a “B” show in October, Hell in a Cell, headlined by Ryback challenging Punk for the title. As of the latest numbers, that show did 155,000 domestic buy and 49,000 overseas. When you look at those numbers and these numbers, and February should be a better month to draw on PPV than October because it’s “in season,” it speaks volumes.

Rock vs. Punk was clearly the draw this year, on a show that also had The Shield vs. Cena & Ryback & Sheamus, a Smackdown elimination chamber match with Jack Swagger winning over Daniel Bryan, Kane, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho and Mark Henry and Alberto Del Rio vs. Big Show for the world title.

Last year’s show had Cena vs. Kane in an Ambulance match as the main event, a Smackdown chamber match with Bryan vs, Show vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Wade Barrett vs. Santino Marella vs. Great Khali and a Raw chamber with Punk vs. Miz vs. Jericho vs. R-Truth vs. Dolph Ziggler vs, Kofi Kingston.

Raw on 4/1 did a 3.10 rating and 4.31 million viewers for the WrestleMania go-home show, down a little, even though it was the return of Shawn Michaels and every major names, Rock, Undertaker, HHH and Brock Lesnar were on the show. The night also had no major cable competition, as only two show on cable, Bates Motel and Dallas, even topped 2.5 million viewers. Total number of people watching TV in the U.S. were virtually identical with the week before.

Last year’s Raw before Mania did a 3.05 rating and 4.44 million viewers, and last year did the second most buys in pro wrestling PPV history, so the idea that the rating being down is a bad sign going into WrestleMania isn’t the case.

Major League Baseball opening day games on ESPN 2 did an 0.8 for the early game and 0.6 for the late game, so that couldn’t have hurt.

The show did a 2.5 among male teenagers (up 19%), a 2.5 in Males 18-49 (down 7%), a 1.1 in Girl teens (up 22%) and a 1.1 in Women 18-49 (down 15%). The audience was 67.7% male.

In the segment-by-segment, the John Cena interview opened at a 3.10. Randy Orton & Sheamus & Big Show vs. Heath Slater & Drew McIntyre & Jinder Mahal lost 95,000 viewers. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler lost 43,000 viewers. The in-ring with Shawn Michaels and HHH, with Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman later coming out, gained 585,000 viewers to a 3.42, so very strong growth. Wade Barrett vs. Zack Ryder lost 458,000 viewers. Mark Henry vs. Santino Marella, the Ryback confrontation and the C.M. Punk interview , gained 14,000 viewers. Alberto Del Rio vs. Zeb Colter lost 108,000 viewers. The Rock interview at 10 p.m. gained 275,000 viewers to a 3.22 rating. Antonio Cesaro vs. Chris Jericho with the Fandango attack lost 168,000 viewers. A bunch of video features lost 212,000 viewers. Cameron & Naomi vs. Bella Twins gained 288,000 viewers. And the final segment with Undertaker doing the interview, the Druids, Paul Heyman and C.M. Punk gained 599,000 viewers to a 3.58.\

Smackdown on 3/29 with The Rock did a 2.00 rating and 2.85 million viewers, which was actually down from the 2.11 rating the week before. The difference was that it went head-to-head with the NCAA basketball tournament on TBS which did 6.46 million viewers against Smackdown. Smackdown was 10th for the night on cable.

Impact on 3/28 did a 1.03 rating and 1.31 million viewers for the second show from Chicago. It’s what the show has been doing for months, but it’s also what they were doing against the NFL, and it has to be a disappointment that they really haven’t grown from that base when football ended except for a few shows based around the wedding angle and a show or two here and there.

Bellator on 3/28 did a 0.6 rating 713,000 viewers for the live show (51,000 more watched via DVR over the next three days) and 359,000 for the replay show. Live show was at the lower end of the season range while the replay was about where it always fits in.

Ultimate Fighter on 3/26 did a 0.9 rating 1.09 million viewers. The number was at the low end of what they’ve been doing this season. They were coming off a big number and hyped the show hard with the idea that one of the fights (Dylan Andrews vs. Luke Barnatt) was great and Ronda Rousey and Mike Tyson were both on the show, so you’d have hoped it would do better. UFC doesn’t promote the show as hard as it used to since the effort is now into promoting all the live shows, so I don’t think most fans had any idea Rousey or Tyson were on. Both did quick cameos, with Rousey demonstrating judo foot sweeps and teaching them to the guys and Tyson showing up in the dressing room to meet the guys who all freaked out and then watched one of the fights with Dana White.

The NCAA wrestling championships on ESPN on 3/23 did a 0.61 rating and 860,000 viewers, for a show built around the Kyle Dake vs. David Taylor 165-pound final. That would be the second biggest audience for the NCAA finals of the last 25 years. It would have beaten both Pat Smith and Cael Sanderson’s previous attempts for four titles, the 1999 Brock Lesnar vs Steve Neal, the 1992 Kurt Angle vs. Sylvester Terkay heavyweight finals as well as Ben Askren’s final collegiate match in 2007. The biggest that ESPN has on record was the 2004 tournament final doing 878,000 viewers. There was nothing remarkably special about that year. The biggest star was Greg Jones, but it was his junior year going for his second title and not his senior year going for his third. For a comparison, last year’s tournament did a 0.42 rating and 554,000 viewers.

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3/25 Chicago (Dragon Gate - 650): Quu Quu Toyonoka Dolphin b Mondai Ryu, Yamato & Shingo Takagi b Masaaki Mochizuki & Kotoka, Naruki Doi b Super Shenlong, K-ness b Jimmy Kagetora, Cima & Dragon Kid b Masato Yoshino & Shachihoko Boy, Jimmy Kanda & Jimmy Susumu & Ryo Saito & Quu Quu Toyonoka Dolphin b Akira Tozawa & BxB Hulk & Mondai Ryu & Uhaa Nation

3/27 Kanazawa (Dragon Gate - 500): Genki Horiguchi & Ryo Saito b Yamato & Super Shenlong, Jimmy Susumu b Kotoka, BxB Hulk b Shachihoko Boy, Naruki Doi & Masato Yoshino b Quu Quu Toyonoka Dolphin & Jimmy Kagetora, Cima & Masaaki Mochizuki & Dragon Kid b Akira Tozawa & Mondai Ryu & Uhaa Nation

3/28 Jonesboro, AR (TNA Impact TV tapings - 4,000): Chavo Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez b Christopher Daniels & Kazarian, Wes Brisco & Garett Bischoff & Doc b Kurt Angle & James Storm & Eric Young, Ken Anderson b Jeff Hardy-DQ, Adam Pearce b Magno, Joey Ryan ref: Gail Kim & Tara b Velvet Sky & Taryn Terrell, Petey Williams won three-way over Mason Andrews and Sonjay Dutt, Devon & Doc & Wes Brisco & Garett Bischoff & Knox b Kurt Angle & Samoa Joe & Magnus & Eric Young & Joseph Park

3/28 Tampa (Bellator MMA): Felice Herrig b Heather Clark, Patrick Cenoble d Tony Fryklund, Edson Berto b Bruno Carvalho, Joe Taimanglo b Ronnie Rogers, Jessica Aguilar b Patricia Vidonic, Augusto Sakai b Rob Horton, Julien Williams b Kenny Moss, Rodrigo Lima b Ronnie Mann, Luis Melo b Trey Houston, Lightweight tournament final: David Rickels b Saad Awad, Light heavyweight tournament final: Emanuel Newton b Mikhail Zayats

3/29 Springfield, MA (WWE joint show - 6,700 sellout): Tag titles: Kane & Daniel Bryan b Heath Slater & Jinder Mahal, IC title: Wade Barrett won three-way over R-Truth and The Miz, World title: Alberto Del Rio NC Antonio Cesaro, Alberto Del Rio & Kofi Kingston b Jack Swagger & Antonio Cesaro, Divas title: Kaitlyn b Tamina Snuka, Over-the-top rope challenge: Ryback b Mark Henry, John Cena & Sheamus & Big Show b Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns-DQ

3/29 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL TV tapings): Demus 3:16 & Pierrothito b Shockercito & Astral, Starman & Triton & Pegasso Extreme b Nitro & Escandalo & Arkangel de la Muerte, Diamante & Rey Cometa & Fuego b Vangelis & Morphosis & Sangre Azteca, Rey Escorpion b Mascara Dorada, Averno & Mephisto & Ephesto b La Mascara & Maximo & La Sombra, Mr. Aguila & El Terrible & Volador Jr. b Shocker & Rush & Marco Corleone

3/29 Naucalpan (AAA TV tapings - 2,500 sellout): Jinzo & Flamita & Atomic Boy b Lucky Boy & Gran Apache & Nino de Ebano, Dinastia & Argenis & Bugambilla b Argos & Mini Abismo Negro & Black Mamba, Joe Lider & Willie Mack & Crazy Boy b AR Fox & Eterno & Dr. Cerebro, Jennifer Blake & Fabi Apache b Taya Valkyrie & Mari Apache, Perro Aguayo Jr. & Daga b Cibernetico & Dark Cuervo, Non-title: Blue Demon Jr. b El Texano Jr.

3/30 Atlantic City (WWE joint show - 7,700) : Wade Barrett won Battle Royal, Divas title: Kaitlyn b Tamina Snuka, U.S. title: Antonio Cesaro b R-Truth, World title: Alberto Del Rio b Wade Barrett-DQ, Alberto Del Rio & Chris Jericho & The Miz b Jack Swagger & Fandango & Wade Barrett, Handicap match: Big Show b Heath Slater & Drew McIntyre & Jinder Mahal, Over-the-top rope challenge: Mark Henry b Ryback, John Cena & Randy Orton & Sheamus b Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose-DQ

3/30 Asheville (ROH - 600): Michael Elgin b Adam Page, QT Marshall NC Darren Dean, Jimmy Jacobs & Jimmy Rave b Grizzly Redwood & Mike Mondo, Rhett Titus b B.J. Whitmer, Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards b Cedric Alexander & Caprice Coleman, Jeff Neal b Charlie Haas, Tag titles: Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish b Mike Posey & Corey Hollis, ACH won four-way over Matt Taven, Jay Lethal and Roderick Strong, ROH title: Kevin Steen b Mark Briscoe

3/30 Toyama (All Japan - 350): Minoru Tanaka & Koji Kanemoto b Sushi & Andy Woo, Hiroshi Yamato & Hikaru Sato b Kotaro Suzuki & Atsushi Aoki, Takao Omori & Seiya Sanada & Ryota Hama b Masakatsu Funaki & Masayuki Kono & Mazada, Jun Akiyama & Go Shiozaki b Kai & Yasufumi Nakanoe, Suwama b Kenso, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Masa Fuchi b Kaz Hayashi & Shuji Kondo

3/30 Shimizu (Dragon Gate - 450): Jimmy Kanda b Mondai Ryu, Yamato & Shingo Takagi b Masaaki Mochizuki & Kotaka, Masato Yoshino b Quu Quu Toyonaka Dolphin, BxB Hulk b Jimmy Kagetora, Cima & Dragon Kid b Naruki Doi & Shachihoko Boy, Akira Tozawa & BxB Hulk & Uhaa Nation b Jimmy Susumu & Ryo Saito & Genki Horiguchi

3/30 Bayamon, PR (WWC - 1,000): Jr. title: Zion RT #1 b Diabolico, Chris & Steve Joel b A.J. Castillo & Jay Velez, Andy Leavine & Samson Walker b Abbad & Chicano, Eddie Colon b ?, Savio Vega b Invader I-DQ, Pole match: Super Fenix b Ray Gonzalez, Tables and chairs match for tag title: Thunder & Lightning b Sons of Samoa

3/30 Tlalnepantla (Luchas 2000): Steve Pain b Fulgore, Centurion & Chico Che b Alan Extreme & Joker, Carta Brava Jr. & Comando Negro & Micke Segura b Dinamic Black & Freelance & Golden Magic, Decnis & El Hijo del Pirata Morgan b Dr. Wagner III & Oriental, Cien Caras & Mascara Ano 2000 & Universo 2000 b Jaque Mate & Sangre Chicana & El Satanico, Atlantis & Blue Panther & Brazo de Oro & Negro Casas b Fantasma & Shu El Guerrero & Villano III & Solar, Black Terry & Negro Navarro & Scorpio Jr. & Villano IV b Brazo de Plata & Felino & Mr. Niebla & Shocker, Atlantis b Villano IV

3/31 White Plains, NY (WWE joint show - 3,700): Wade Barrett won Battle Royal, Divas title: Kaitlyn b Tamina Snuka, U.S. title: Antonio Cesaro b Kofi Kingston, World title: Alberto Del Rio b Wade Barrett-DQ, Alberto Del Rio & Chris Jericho & The Miz b Jack Swagger & Fandango & Wade Barrett, Handicap match: Big Show b Heath Slater & Drew McIntyre & Jinder Mahal, Over-the-top-rope challenge: Mark Henry b Ryback, John Cena & Randy Orton & Sheamus b Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose-DQ

3/31 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 1,200): Mitsuhiro Kitamiya b Hitoshi Kumano, Super Crazy & Atsushi Kotoge b Lance & Harlem Bravado, Kento Miyahara & Taishi Takizawa b Shane Haste & Bruiser Barry, Takeshi Morishima & Mohammed Yone b Mikey Nicholls & Jonah Rock, Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura & Yoshinari Ogawa b Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima & Satoshi Kajiwara, No DQ: Maybach Taniguchi b Maybach Taniguchi Jr., GHC jr. title: Taiji Ishimori b Ricky Marvin, Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka & Yujiro Takahashi b KENTA & Yoshihiro Takayama & Genba Hirayanagi

3/31 Hyogo (All Japan - 380): Kaz Hayashi & Shuji Kondo b Sushi & Andy Woo, Kenso b Hiroshi Yamato, Masakatsu Funaki & Masayuki Kono b Takao Omori & Seiya Sanada, Kai b Yasufumi Nakanoe, Jun Akiyama & Go Shiozaki & Kotaro Suzuki & Atsushi Aoki b Suwama & Ryota Hama & Hikaru Sato & Mazada, Koji Kanemoto & Minoru Tanaka b Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Masa Fuchi

3/31 Mexico City Arena Coliseo (CMLL - 1,500): Bengala & Leono b Apocalipsis & Inquisidor, El Hijo del Signo & Hooligan & Nosferatu b Metalico & Sensei & Soberano, Amapola & Comandante & Tiffany b Dalis la Caribena & Estrellita & Luna Magica, El Hijo del Fantasma d Tiger, Blue Panther & Brazo de Plata & La Sombra b Averno & Dragon Rojo Jr. & Olimpico, Diamante Azul & Mistico & Valiente b Euforia & Niebla Roja & Volador Jr.

4/1 Washington, DC (WWE Raw/Smackdown/Superstars/Saturday Morning Slam TV tapings - 13,500 sellout): Great Khali b JTG, Kofi Kingston b Justin Gabriel, Handicap match: Ryback b Primo & Epico, Jack Swagger b Kofi Kingston, Randy Orton & Sheamus & Big Show b Heath Slater & Drew McIntyre & Jinder Mahal, Dolph Ziggler b Daniel Bryan, Non-title: Wade Barrett b Zack Ryder, Mark Henry b Santino Marella, Non-title: Alberto Del Rio b Zeb Colter-DQ, Non-title: Chris Jericho b Antonio Cesaro, Bella Twins b Naomi & Cameron, John Cena & Ryback & Sheamus b Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose-DQ

4/2 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL): Herodes Jr. & Inquisidor b Bengala & Genesis, Mercurio & Nitrito & Pequeno Violencia b Aereo & Mini Fantasy & Shockercito, Diamante & Fuego & El Hijo del Fantasma b Arkangel de la Muerte & Namajague & Okumura-DQ, Marcela b Amapola, Euforia & Niebla Roja & Ultimo Guerrero b Marco Corleone & Mascara Dorada & Rush, Mexican national trios titles: Mr. Aguila & Kraneo & Psicosis b Angel de Oro & Shocker & Valiente

4/2 Fukuyama (All Japan - 400): Kotaro Suzuki & Atsushi Aoki b Sushi & Andy Woo, Osamu Nishimura b Yasufumi Nakanoe, Suwama & Takao Omori & Ryota Hama & Seiki b Masakatsu Funaki & Kenso & Masayuki Kono & Hanzo, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Masa Fuchi b Hiroshi Yamato & Hikaru Sato, Jun Akiyama & Go Shiozaki b Seiya Sanada & Kai, Kaz Hayashi & Shuji Kondo b Minoru Tanaka & Koji Kanemoto

The 3/29 show at Arena Mexico was headlined by Mr. Aguila & El Terrible & Volador Jr. over Shocker & Rush & Marco Corleone, when ref Tirantes went down and Aguila kicked Shocker low and got the pin. Averno & Mephisto & Ephesto beat La Mascara & Maximo & La Sombra when Averno pinned Mascara and Mephisto pinned Maximo both with the Devil’s Wings (pedigree) off the middle rope at about the same time. The singles match with Rey Escorpion pinning Mascara Dorada got rave reviews. The match only went 7:50 (the midcard single match at Arena Mexico is called a lightning match with a 10:00 time limit) but there were people saying it was the best CMLL match so far this year.

The 4/5 show has Thunder & Shocker & Atlantis vs. Aguila & Averno & Mephisto as the main event, Stuka Jr. & Angel de Oro & Diamante Azul vs. Dragon Rojo Jr. & Escorpion & Polvora as the semi.

Negro Casas defends the NWA welterweight title against Ultimo Dragon on 4/14 in Mexico City for a Toryumon taping. Funny, it was 23 years ago in Japan where I saw those two in a singles match at Korakuen Hall.

The Luchas 2000 promotion ran a legends show on 3/30 at Arena Lopez Mateos, bringing back Cien Caras (63), El Satanico (63), Sangre Chicana (61), Jaque Mate (64) and others. They also had two eight-mans with veterans where the two winners would meet in the finals for the Copa Luchas 2000, with Atlantis getting the win in the first match and Villano IV in the second. Atlantis won, and then after, Villano IV challenged him to a mask vs. mask match if Atlantis beats Ultimo Guerrero in September’s anniversary show.

This week’s TV tapings was 3/29 at Arena Naucalpan, before a sellout of 2,500 fans, with people turned away. It opened with Jinzo & Flamita & Atomic Boy over Lucky Boy & Gran Apache & Nino de Ebano, when Atomic Boy bloodied up and pinned Apache. This was to start getting Atomic Boy over, since they were teasing a mask vs. hair match against Apache. Atomic Boy is so small he used to be a mini when he started working at the age of 15 using the name Mini Dizzy. He and Apache have been feuding for a few months. Dinastia & Argenis & Bugambilla beat Argos & Mini Abismo Negro & Black Mamba. Argenis and Argos are both younger brothers of Sin Cara. Then Willie Mack and AR Fox debuted on television. Mack is a protege of Joey Ryan from Southern California and has been working small shows in Mexico. Fox has also been working small shows in Mexico. Mack & Joe Lider & Crazy Boy beat Fox & Eterno & Dr. Cerebro. Eterno is someone the promotion is said to be high on. Match must have been good because fans were throwing money into the ring. Fox in particular was the standout. Jennifer Blake & Fabi Apache beat Taya Valkyrie & Mari Apache. Perro Aguayo Jr. & Daga beat Cibernetico & Dark Cuervo when Aguayo Jr. pinned Cuervo with a tombstone piledriver onto a table, which was on top of a beer rack. Aguayo Jr. also powerslammed Cibernetico through a table. Cibernetico later got a chair and cleaned house on Aguayo Jr. & Daga. Main event saw Blue Demon Jr. avenge his loss to Rey de Reyes by pinning AAA heavyweight champion El Texano Jr. with a pedigree and Dragon suplex. At one point, this was being advertised as a title match, but they changed it to non-title, which kind of gave away the finish.

Next taping is 4/6 in Tlalnepantla, headlined by Fenix & La Parka & Electroshock vs. Chessman & Pentagon Jr. & Parka Negra.

There is also a 4/15 taping in Leon with a parejas increibles main event with Mesias & Demon Jr. vs. Texano Jr. & L.A. Park, plus the Black Family of Dark Cuervo & Dark Escoria & Dark Espiritu & Dark Ozz vs. Aguayo Jr. & Daga & Halloween & Original Psicosis.

What will be a combination All Japan and NOAH show, and likely the last time either group ever sells out Budokan Hall, is the 5/11 “Final Burning in Budokan” show, with the retirement of Kenta Kobashi, who will become the PWF commissioner. They announced the main event of Kobashi & Jun Akiyama & Keiji Muto & Kensuke Sasaki as the veteran legends against KENTA & Go Shiozaki & Yoshinari Kanemaru & Maybach Taniguchi. With the exception of Muto, it’s really a 2012 NOAH match, since Akiyama, Shiozaki and Kanemaru were all in NOAH last year and quit at the time Kobashi’d issues with NOAH came to a head.

The 2013 Champion Carnival tournament details were announced this week. The Carnival is the oldest annual tradition in pro wrestling, dating back to the Japan Pro Wrestling World League tournament won by Rikidozan in 1959. It was the biggest tour of the year most of the time during the 60s. It became the Champion Carnival in 1973, when Giant Baba left Japan Pro Wrestling to form All Japan and NTV wanted to keep the annual spring tournament. From 1983 to 1990 it wasn’t held, for a variety of reasons, mostly notably Baba’s mentality at that time was that top guys aren’t supposed to lose, and thus didn’t want a ton of non-finishes. In 1990, when Baba changed his philosophy to every match ends via pin or submission and everyone at some point loses, he brought it back, and it was a huge deal during the promotion’s heyday. It hasn’t been a very big deal lately,as the promotion fell in popularity even though it annually has produced some great matches. It opens 4/18 at Korakuen Hall and ends on 4/29 in the same building with the semifinals and finals. The A block has Suwama, Takao Omori, Seiya Sanada, Masayuki Kono, Ryota Hama and Go Shiozaki. The B Block has Masakatsu Funaki, Akebono, Kenso, Kai, Joe Doering and Jun Akiyama. Opening night has Suwama vs. Shiozaki, Omori vs. Sanada, Funaki vs. Kai and Akiyama vs. Kenso. The biggest night is likely the 4/27 show in Osaka, which will determine who makes the final four. The A block matches are Suwama vs. Omori, Sanada vs. Kono and Hama vs. Shiozaki. The B Block matches are Funaki vs. Akiyama (good chance this determines first place), Akebono vs. Kenso and Kai vs. Doering.

They had a ten bell salute at the 3/30 show in Toyama, honoring Reid Flair at the start of the show.

Owner Nobuo Shiraishi has created a lot of controversy of late. He’s been talking about how they have to get rid of match fixing from pro wrestling, accusing New Japan of setting up fixed matches in their dojo. Riki Choshu, 60, said Shiraishi has committed an unforgivable act and challenged him to come to a Legend Pro Wrestling show and try and slap him in the face (Shiraishi slapped Kenso in the face at the last major All Japan show a few weeks ago at Sumo Hall). Shiraishi responded that he’s not afraid of Choshu and brought up how Choshu started his own company, World Japan, and was out of business within a year.

Takao Omori will be going to Big Japan to challenge their World strong heavyweight champion Daisuke Sekimoto. The date for the match hasn’t been announced.

As of 4/3, these were the junior heavyweight tournament standings: 1. (Tied) Kaz Hayashi & Shuji Kondo, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Masa Fuchi and Minoru Tanaka & Koji Kanemoto 2-1; 4. (Tied) Hiroshi Yamato & Hikaru Sato and Kotaro Suzuki & Atsushi Aoki 1-1; 6. Sushi & Andy Woo 0-3.

The tournament opened on 3/30 in Toyama before 350 fans. Tanaka & Kanemoto beat Sushi & Woo; Yamato & Sato beat Suzuki & Aoki when Yamato used a cross-arm German suplex on Aki; and Kanemaru & Fuchi beat Hayashi & Kondo in 18:53 when Kanemaru pinned Hayashi after a brainbuster.

3/31 in Hyogo saw Tanaka & Kanemoto beat Kanemaru & Fuchi in 19:55 when Kanemoto beat Fuchi with the ankle lock.

4/2 in Fukuyama saw Kanemaru & Fuchi beat Yamato & Sato when Kanemura pinned Yamato in 17:34 with a brainbuster and Hayashi & Kondo beat Tanaka & Kanemoto in 20:25 when Kondo pinned Kanemoto with a lariat.

Tournament ends 4/7 in Fukui.

They had a 3/31 show at Korakuen Hall which was headlined by CHAOS, the heel group from New Japan, of Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka (who hold the GHC tag titles) & Yujiro Takahashi beating KENTA & Yoshihiro Takayama & Genba Hirayanagi, the lead heel group from NOAH, in 13:43 when Takahashi pinned Hirayanagi with a German suplex. This was done to heat up the tag team tournament that starts on 4/13. The show drew 1,200 fans, which is about what NOAH has been doing of late for its Korakuen Hall shows. Taiji Ishimori retained the GHC jr. title, pinning Ricky Marvin in 17:04. They also had a no DQ match with Maybach Taniguchi pinning Maybach Taniguchi Jr. in 9:38 with a power bomb. Taniguchi unmasked Jr. as Suwa, who had retired in 2007 and just came back with the gimmick. It was pretty well known that’s who Taniguchi Jr. was. He’ll be going as Suwa from this point forward.

Ishimori’s next title defense will be on the first day of the tag tourney , on 4/13, against Hirayanagi. The tag tourney matches on that show are Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura vs. Yoshihito Sasaki & Shinya Ishikawa, Takeshi Morishima & Mohammed Yone vs. Akitoshi Saito & Tomoaki Honma, and KENTA & Takayama vs. Taniguchi & Yujiro Takahashi.

The All Japan/New Japan angle with All Japan owner Nobuo Shiraishi claiming that New Japan fixes its matches (seriously) is continuing as Shiraishi said he would be coming to the 4/7 show at Sumo Hall, and Takaaki Kidani (his friend for a long time who is likely working this angle with him) said they would have security guards keep him from entering the building.

Their Asahi Newstar satellite TV deal was renewed for another year starting this month. Matches from the Best of the Super Junior tournament on 5/24 and 6/9 (the finals) will air live on the station.

The Killer Elite Squad, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer, will be working a Paul Boesch tribute show put on by NWA Houston on 4/20, challenging NWA tag team champions Scot Summers & Ryan Genesis. There had been rumors of those teams wrestling in Japan at some point so it’s possible this will set that up. Rob Conway vs. Chris Masters for the NWA title is the announced main event. In theory that seems to mean Conway retained on 4/7 at Sumo Hall against Satoshi Kojima.

Lance Archer won the Traditional Championship Wrestling heavyweight title on 3/30 in Springfield, MO, at that group’s TV tapings in Springfield, MO. The promotion made him champion with the idea he would take the title and defend it in Japan, and use that to make the title seem more important.

This year’s Best of the Super Junior tournament will go from 5/22 in Nagoya and finish on 6/9 at Korakuen Hall.

Ayumi Kurihara, 28, a Japanese woman wrestler who has worked all over the world, announced that she would be retiring in August, with her ceremony at an 8/4 show at Korakuen Hall. She’s coming in this week for Shimmer at their WrestleMania weekend show. Kurihara is also a former CMLL women’s champion. She has been wrestling eight years. She suffered a broken clavicle on 2007, which never fully recovered and needed major reconstructive surgery. She’s retiring due to the accumulation of injuries.

Leona Fujinami, 19, the son of Tatsumi Fujinami, will be doing an exhibition match on the Dradition show on 5/29 at Korakuen Hall. The idea is this will introduce him but his official debut will come down the line. The younger Fujinami was training in the U.K. and will debut officially before the end of 2013. That show will have a top two matches of Tatsumi Fujinami & Original Tiger Mask vs. Masakatsu Funaki & AKIRA and Riki Choshu & Yukio Sakaguchi vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Kazuki Hashimoto.

Six wrestlers, including Daisuke Harada and Masamune, have quit Osaka Pro Wrestling. They announced it at a 3/30 show in Osaka, with Harada saying that he would stay until the 4/14 show. Harada said he was moving to Tokyo, so it appears he’ll be joining one of the Tokyo-based promotions.

Daichi Hashimoto will be returning to Zero-One on 4/15 for a match against Kota Ibushi on a Zero-One show.

Zero-One ran its annual Yasukuni Shrine show in Tokyo on 3/31 with a main event of Shinjiro Otani & Masato Tanaka & Choshu over Akebono & James Raideen & Zeus.

Sean Waltman on Twitter wrote about his injuries last week: “The turnbuckle wasn’t covered and my landing should have been 45 degrees. I ended up landing hard and horizontal. The turnbuckle ripped me another new a hole. I knew it right away. You can see me tell the ref, `tore my ass!’ I went to the after party briefly, but had to leave as blood started gushing. Hotel room looked like a murder scene, so much blood. Hotel security called an ambulance and R. Morken at the Hennepin County Medical Center performer sphincterplasty to save me from having to have a colostomy bag. It’s hard not to laugh, so feel free to find it humorous.” Waltman was released from the hospital late in the week. He also suffered a partially severed sciatic nerve.

Scott Hall will be undergoing hip replacement surgery on 4/9 which is on the heels of the fund raising campaign by wrestling fans. Hall has claimed to have stayed sober for more than a month since moving in with DDP. Last week, he did a four-and-a-half hour interview where he was witty and coherent, so hopefully that is a good sign. The campaign to fund his medical bills raised more than $100,000.

Regarding the Extreme Rising group canceling its shows due to weak advances, in particular the show scheduled for Philadelphia, the feeling is they just can’t afford to be losing money on shows right now. They’ve come to the realization that trying to run a group that runs fairly often based on the live gate is impossible and have gone over-budget booking too much talent, even though they are generally drawing better than either ROH or TNA in the markets they’ve run. Merchandise, DVD and iPPV business hasn’t made any difference. The goal is to get local television in some markets and run angles to get over the younger stars (Luke Hawx) and the ex-ECW guys who can still go like Stevie Richards, and a few ECW vets sprinkled in, and hope that selling TV ads and live show sponsorships can be the way to go combined with hoping the TV will increase merchandise and DVD sales. They had plans of running a show at the ECW Arena over the next several weeks, but the Arena won’t be ready for a full-blown wrestling show by that time.

Bobby Horne, 48, who wrestled as Mo from the former WWE tag team champions, Men on a Mission, with Mabel (later Big Daddy V and Viscera) in the 90s, is suffering from end stage renal failure and undergoing kidney dialysis as he prepares for a kidney transplant. His stepdaughter is donating one of her kidneys. Recently, Horne complained about how WWE will spend $100,000 to help a guy like Scott Hall over and over again, and anyone who has problems based on drug or alcohol addictions, but a guy like him who stayed clean but was given a bad hand in a life threatening situation and they don’t help him out.

Homicide (Nelson Erazo, 36), told PWInsider.com in an interview this past week that he’s not happy with the way wrestling is going and he’s going to give it one more year and then plans on leaving.

This past week, Stevie Richards, the Extreme Rising champion, put a photo of the belt on Twitter and offered to defend it in a videogame this week since the shows were canceled and he had no bookings. Danny Doring then posted a photo of the ECW tag team title belt that he still owned and offered to put it in the line against him, saying they could battle, defunct promotion vs. defunct promotion. The promotion then e-mailed Richards and demanded the return of the belt by the end of this week. They were mad at the idea he’d put it up in a video game (more of a joke of course) and that the word defunct was used for the promotion, although technically it was Doring who used the word. .

John Hennigan (John Morrison) is one of the main stars in a movie called “The Factory,” which begins filming next week in New York. The movie is about a group of people looking to buy a factory, who get trapped inside trying to escape from demon’s from the factory’s past.

Some more notes on the Joe Weider/pro wrestling connection, mostly from the 50s, although Weider ads were all over wrestling magazines in the 70s because pretty much every wrestling fan I knew also knew of Dave Draper, Larry Scott, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane and Zabo Koszewski (who briefly did pro wrestling) from the ads in the back of the magazines. The photos in the magazines of Joe Weider in the 50s had Weider’s face superimposed over the body of Clancy Ross, one of the top bodybuilders from that era. The Weider statue from the 70s that was in all the magazines for years was the older Joe Weider with Robbie Robinson’s body. Weider’s main wrestling magazine writer was Charles A. Smith. A lot of the bodybuilders became wrestlers, most notably Ray Stern, Pepper Gomez, Henry Lenz, Seymour Koenig and Eric Pederson. Weider’s bodybuilding magazines in the 50s regularly featured Baron Michele Leone, who was the big star and world champion in Southern California. Lou Thesz appeared in Weider ads. The Weiders also had a French language pro wrestling magazine called “Lutte, for a few years. The main photographer for the magazine was Tony Lanza, who was a pro wrestler who was also a bodybuilding and wrestling magazine photographer. Russ Warner was another pro wrestling and bodybuilding magazine photographer. Weider also did some young guy magazines like “Young Physique,” “Adonis,” and “Muscle Boy” as well as once tried to go after Hugh Hefner with a male skin magazine, a big game magazine, and even did a baseball magazine.

Carlos Colon, on WWC TV this past week, announced he was coming out of retirement. That was funny since he just wrestled Savio Vega a few weeks ago. He said that his doctors gave him the okay to return and he was going to start training and believes he’ll be back in shape in time for the anniversary show. Yes, no acknowledgment that he just wrestled. He said he’s coming back to give Invader I the beating that he deserves for what he has done. Without mentioning the murder of Bruiser Brody, he said that there was something that happened 25 years ago (Brody was murdered by Invader in the dressing room in Bayamon in 1988) involving Invader that was really bad and Colon talked about how he helped him out at the time. Colon used the WWC TV show, which got monster ratings, to try and make Invader a sympathetic character and behind the scenes helped in his acquittal. He also kept him on payroll and kept him secretly working in the office while telling everyone he was gone, and then brought him back as booker after the trial. He said that after all that, Invader betrayed him, saying that during the war with IWA, Invader left for the other company and went as far as to go on a non-wrestling TV show and talked trash about him (Invader was on a gossip show and buried Colon). He said that now Invader has brainwashed his own son, Carlito, against him. Invader’s new gimmick is beating up prelim wrestlers and making fun of them saying they’ll never be as good as him. Invader is now 66 and Colon is almost 65 and they are building the big show around their match, which tells you what a great job they’ve done in building the next generation. They had a big show on 3/30 in Bayamon with about 1,000 fans, with Thunder & Lightning winning the tag titles for the 26th time over the Sons of Samoa in a tables and chairs match. Super Fenix (who the crowd thought was Gilbert, given they were chanting “Gilbert” at him the whole match although they also chanted “Fandango” at him) beat Ray Gonzalez to keep the Universal title in what was billed as a ladder match but turned out to be a pole match. There was a ref bump and a second guy dressed in the same Super Fenix outfit grabbed the Universal title belt off the pole. After the match and the second Super Fenix left with the belt, Gonzalez told the first Super Fenix to stop pretending, that all the fans know he’s Gilbert and Gilbert is a good wrestler, but he’ll never be a great wrestler if he keeps pretending to be Ray Gonzalez (who was the original Fenix under a mask in WWC). Gonzalez wanted a rematch and vowed to take his title and unmask him. The Savio Vega vs. Invader I grudge match had great heat, ending when Vega had Invader in the cobra clutch and a bunch of heels hit the ring for the DQ. They left Vega laying. Primo from WWE returned. As part of his WWE contract, he has a few dates per year he’s allowed to work in WWC, and he returned against a masked mystery opponent sent by Invader. Primo beat him with the figure four. Former Tough Enough winner Andy Leavine “looks huge.”

For the 4/21 WWL show, the original Bobby Roode & James Storm vs. Christopher Daniels & Kazarian match, which makes no sense from TNA TV (Roode & Storm as Beer Money had worked in Puerto Rico in the past) was changed to Roode vs. Storm and Daniels & Kazarian vs. Samoa Joe and a partner to be named.

Mike Mooneyham in the Charleston Post-Courier ran a story about Bob Caudle, the Carolinas announcer who is now 82 years old. Caudle will be attending the annual Mid Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fan Fest from 8/1 to 8/4 in Charlotte. He said Ole Anderson calls him from time-to-time. Caudle started broadcasting wrestling when Jim Crockett Sr. taped his program at WRAL in Raleigh in 1960 and remained until the promotion closed in 1988. He then was with WCW for a few years before being let go in 1991. He moved on to Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Caudle did the local news and weather at WRAL. In those days, the local wrestling announcer in a lot of markets, like Lance Russell, Dave Brown, Danny Williams (McGuirk), Walt Harris (San Francisco) were local media personalities who worked for the station where they filmed the studio wrestling show at. He left doing the news in Raleigh in 1980, and became a full-time legislative assistant to Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, until retiring from that post in 1996. He had known Helms from his news work. He noted that one time in Raleigh that local sportscaster Nick Pond was doing the 6 p.m. news when Rip Hawk snuck onto the set, crawled on all fours to not be see and tried to set Pond’s script on fire. Caudle had suffered a series of heart attacks in 2007, but hasn’t had any heart problems since they put a stent in and it was noted he’s now been married for 64 years.

Gama Singh, (real name Gadowar Singh Sahota), had his Calgary home in a fire on 4/2 at about 1 a.m. The fire, which destroyed two homes, is believed to have been started at his next door neighbor’s house from a battery charger from a remote controlled car. A battery was being charged for a remote control car and the charger overcharged the battery, it exploded and caught fire. The fire spread from the neighbor’s home to Sahota’s home, which was badly damaged. . Stampede Wrestling historian Bob Leonard noted this about the death of Dennis Forsland, who passed away and in his obit was called a former world heavyweight champion. Forsland worked four different runs in Stampede Wrestling between 1958 and 1964. He was more of a manager of Joe Tomasso, and also managed him in the U.S., probably in Texas and Utah. Leonard said he was a passable worker by the standards of the time, but a mid-carder at best as a single. He did win a tag team title with Tomasso. He worked in some places as Eric the Great, and claimed to have been a former world champion. A different wrestler, Eric the Red (Solvang Hansen), who was a star in the 70s and passed away in 1978 after being hit by a far, wore the same kind of a ring outfit, and according to some records held the NWF world title (for Pedro Martinez in Buffalo/Cleveland, this is the belt Antonio Inoki bought and took to New Japan as the major as the major singles title in the 70s) briefly in 1973, and also had that promotion’s North American title.

Charlie Britt, a Tennessee independent wrestler, passed away on 3/24 at the age of 27. Britt wrestled as The Redneck Kid and TRK Bubba for various different promotions.

Charlie Haas quit the promotion/was fired abruptly after an incident on the 3/30 show in Asheville, NC. Haas, 41, was reportedly belligerent backstage, and there was also something of a chasm between Haas and Shelton Benjamin with the regulars since they kind of kept to themselves and how they didn’t have the same attitude toward the promotion. It would really be impossible for someone from WWE to have the same attitude toward ROH, and really Haas & Benjamin came in because of Jim Cornette looking for some names that would be better known to there was familiarity to new fans on TV. The incident from internal accounts appeared to start at the 3/3 TV tapings in Chicago from a match with Haas vs. Grizzly Redwood. Redwood was upset because he thought he was going to get more offense in. It was supposed to be one-sided, but he got only a few moves in. When Haas came in, he was described as belligerent and worse, and was rubbing people the wrong way. Redwood, who is the smallest guy in the promotion, was said to have instigated things in that he knocked Haas’ hat off and stomped on it. Haas struck Redwood or got into a fight with him. There are a lot of versions but the one we heard was it was not a closed fist bunch but a hard backhanded slap, hard enough that Redwood was bleeding from it. It was immediately broken up but booker Hunter Johnston was furious and he and Haas got into a loud shouting match. This took place while the fifth match on the show was in the ring but a lot of the fans at the show could hear it going on. Kevin Kelly, who was at the show and has known both Charlie and his brother Russ dating back to when they worked for Jim Kettner in Delaware, tried to diffuse the situation and talk him into leaving. Haas refused to leave and eventually they came to the conclusion it would be easier if he just did his match since he was insistent on it. He faced Jeff Neal, a local worker who is an area radio personality who worked a radio angle with Haas to set up the match. Haas was supposed to win, but instead, Haas put Neal over with a roll-up clean in the middle. Haas did some mic work but they cut his mic off and he stayed in the ring and continued talking loud enough for everyone to hear him. He said he was retiring immediately, that it’s time for him to be a husband and a father, and that next week’s match with Shelton Benjamin on the iPPV wasn’t happening. He thanked the fans and a lot of the locker room, but called Kevin Kelly an office stooge, ripped on booker Johnston, as well as Nigel McGuinness (who he doesn’t get along with). He said he was trading in his wrestling trunks for hospital scrubs. Apparently Haas has just taken a regular well-paying job in the medical profession at his home in Texas and even if this blow-up didn’t happen, was probably not going to be around much longer.

The show itself drew a healthy crowd of more than 600 fans. Asheville is one of the markets where they do their best ratings. The show was said to be so-so with the highlights being Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards beating Caprice Coleman & Cedric Alexander and the main event where Kevin Steen retained the ROH title beating Mark Briscoe. The first part of the show didn’t get much reaction. Michael Elgin pin Carolinas wrestler Adam Page, which nobody knew. Q.T. Marshall vs. Darren Dean ended in a no contest when SCUM attacked both guys. This led to Jimmy Jacobs & Jimmy Rave beating Redwood & Mike Mondo. Lots more SCUM interference, which led to Rhett Titus beating B.J. Whitmer with more SCUM interference. Richards & Edwards cleaned house on scum and then had their match beating Alexander & Coleman. In the second half of the show, Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly beat Mike Posey & Corey Hollis to keep the tag title. This was presented with the idea of the underdogs going for the tag title story. Next was a decent match where ACH won over TV champ Matt Taven, Jay Lethal and Roderick Strong. The winner of the match, unless it was Taven, was to get a TV title shot. Main was Steen over Briscoe to retain in a very good match.

There are reports that Sinclair Broadcasting is looking at purchasing Titan Television Broadcasting group, which owns 13 small and medium market channels. If the deal goes through, ROH would get TV in markets including Fresno, Omaha, El Paso and Sioux City.

Spike TV, which was down last year in both ratings and ad revenue, has told media buyers and advertising clients that it is going to make changes in the network and try to compete with the top networks in general entertainment. They are looking at adding scripted television shows to go with the reality genre sports, as well as looking to add more female viewers. “For the last two-and–a-half years, we have sought to expand the audience based with more gender balanced shows, and have been successful with Ink Master, Auction Hunters and Tattoo Nightmares (about 50/50 male/female),” said David Schwarz about the Broadcast & Cable story. “This does not affect Bellator/TNA. We still want to serve our loyal male viewers, and ad clients.” Jeff Lucas, the head of ad sales for Viacom’s music and entertainment networks, said the idea of changing the name from Spike is “something that we’re closely watching. As we transition from mostly reality to the scripted side, we’re looking at that. It takes a lot to change the name of a network. If we don’t have to change it, we won’t. But if we do, we will.” Spike was No. 24 overall in 2012, and dropped 10% in viewers from 2011. It brought in $323 million in ad revenue for the year, down from $330 million the year before.

Hulk Hogan on Twitter went out of his way to put over writers David Lagana and Matt Conway after the Jonesboro show. As far as pacing went, the show was excellent. It looks like the new format, or at least this was what was used in Jonesboro, was only three matches, but all three matches were given time to play out. The interview segments were also given time to play out and when the show was over, it was easy to remember everything that had taken place as opposed to the blur. Plus, there is a feeling that everything on the show leads to something. I’m not sure how much it matters. My feeling is TNA is going to be doing a 1.0 to 1.1 rating every week no matter what they do, although the 4/11 show is a real test to see if it’s possible for them at this point to hit a 1.2 short of another wedding since they’ve got essentially what could be top matches on a PPV show. They are pushing that show, live from Corpus Christi, like it’s almost a PPV with Bully Ray vs. Jeff Hardy in a Full Metal Mayhem match for the TNA title, Bobby Roode & Austin Aries vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez for the tag titles and if Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez lose, they can’t get another title shot, plus the Gut Check evaluation of either Adam Pearce or Magno, A.J. Styles vs. James Storm (which may not take place) and Gail Kim vs. Taryn Terrell. So the four PPVs a year looks to be so they can do PPV main event style match-ups more often on Impact, perhaps building to one big show per month.

From TV, and nobody has said anything definite, it sure looks like Hulk Hogan will be wrestling against Bully Ray in a big match, or a Hogan & Sting vs. Team 3-D, once Hogan and Sting get back on the same page. They’ve got two months to tease the feud before ending up on the same side (the idea of turning either of them heel at this stage or feuding them past teases wouldn’t be good because if they did so, they’d build everything around them even worse). They are blowing off the Hardy rematch on television and I can’t see them coming back with a rematch from a Full Metal Mayhem match unless Hardy wins. It’s probably not the right time for Hardy to win but with limited options it’s not always about the perfect timing.

Hogan when he was in the U.K. was asked about HHH running WWE, and put him over, which is the smart thing to do. Years back, after Hogan had left the company in 2002 over being told that he wasn’t going to get his win back from Brock Lesnar (which led to the premature Lesnar face turn and feud with Big Show), whenever the subject of Hogan coming back was brought up internally, the entire family, Shane, Stephanie and HHH were always united that Hogan shouldn’t be brought back, but Vince always brought him back. Then again, when you are the promoter, you always bring back the big attraction and the guy who once drew money in the hopes he can again, especially with Hogan, since the pops he will always get live are intoxicating to a promoter and usually override when he doesn’t move the needle, like here.

Robbie E signed a new one-year contract.

Devon was still wearing the TV title belt, even though virtually all mention of it on TV has disappeared.

Speaking of Gut Check, we’ve seen no mention of Jay Bradley since he won, nor Le’d Tapa, although she at least aired on a few of the taped PPV shows. And she’s not ready. They passed up on Brian Cage for Bradley. Cage is fairly new, looked very good in the ring and the crowd took to him, and looked better than any guy thus far in Gut Check.

The 6/2 Boston tickets went on sale this past week for Slammiversary. We don’t have numbers but it was a good first weekend. They did 5,500 in 2008 for Lockdown in the market and haven’t been back for a PPV show since. Up until San Antonio, that was their record for a PPV show.

It’s interesting to note that on TV when they copied the WWE’s “Did you Know,” talking about Lockdown attendance in San Antonio, they phrased it as the largest attendance ever for a TNA PPV show (which would mean more than 5,500) but not as the largest attendance for a TNA show ever (which would be about 8,000 for the Wembley Arena sellout from a few years back).

Notes from the 3/28 tapings in Jonesboro. Although it was announced by the promotion as a sellout, a building official said the crowd was 3,500 while someone in the company said it looked to be more like 4,000. Those there were responsive and there’s no doubt that these tapings are making the product look better and are at least selling a decent amount of tickets. This was a well-paced show, which I guess you can get if you only do three matches in two hours. They spent a lot of time building up the next two weeks of TV.

The show started with Jeff Hardy out. He said he’s not 100%, but is feeling better and he did just beat three guys to become the No. 1 contender. He said he was going to call somebody. Before he could, Bully Ray showed up with Aces and 8s. Ray asked Hardy why he’s calling Ray out since they’re not in Corpus Christi so the title isn’t on the line. Crowd was into this segment. Ray talked about how Hardy gets second chances, third chances, 100th chances after screwing up because he can sell merchandise. Essentially, without using the exact words, he insinuated that Hardy has had problems people don’t know about covered up. He also made reference to burning his house down. Ken Anderson was on the apron and Hardy knocked down. Then Aces and 8s hit the ring and were putting the boots to Hardy. Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Eric Young and Magnus hit the ring. Bully then called his team off and they backed off. Hardy grabbed the mic and called out Anderson instead of Ray.

During this, there was a “Bring Back Ivelisse” sign with the exact same lettering and handwriting from the one in front of the hard camera the previous two weeks in Chicago. So there’s a plant signs in the crowd angle going on, or the same fan brought his same sign from Chicago down to Jonesboro on a Thursday night.

Chavo Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez came out. Chavo tried to talk more like Eddie, which came across fake because people have heard Chavo do interviews on television for nearly two decades and you don’t suddenly change your dialect in your 40s. They called out Christopher Daniels & Kazarian, and it was noted that the winners would become the top contenders for Austin Aries & Bobby Roode (neither of whom were on the show).

Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez won the match in 12:10. Kazarian was out wearing a Yellow Hulk Hogan style lettered Hulkamania T-shirt that read “Kaz Mania.” Daniels & Kazarian worked in T-shirts, I guess trying to get their merchandise over. Guerrero Jr. backdropped Daniels over the top and Daniels accidentally hit the back of his head on the ring steps. At one point Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez ran on the ramp and simultaneously dove over the top rope with shoulderblocks. Mike Tenay called it Air Mexico, as a takeoff on Marco Corleone doing the same move in Mexico, where it’s called Air Italia. During the commercial break, there was an All State commercial which featured Don Frye on a motorcycle. Crowd was into this match. The story is that Daniels & Kazarian were caught a few times trying to cheat to win by ref Brian Stiffler. Daniels set up the Angels wings on Guerrero Jr., but Hernandez did a shoudlerblock into the ring knocking Daniels down. Guerrero Jr. then pinned Daniels after a frog splash. Good bout overall.

Taryn Terrell did one of those quick bumper promos where she was holding her top on and talked about how she was coming out next and teased what she’d be wearing.

She came out. All I can say is that you do have to watch Impact at least once to see Taryn Tarrell. But I was having ECW Tiffany flashbacks once she started talking. She called out Gail Kim. As it turned out, the match never happened. Kim came out and said that Terrell wouldn’t want to embarrass herself on national TV by facing the greatest woman wrestler who ever lived. Why, was Manami Toyota backstage? Kim said that Terrell has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. She was accentuating rubbing people for those who didn’t see it and didn’t realize that was a double entendre. Kim said that Tara had actually been planning to call Terrell out. Tara came down with Jessie Godderz. Terrell was distracted and Kim attacked her. Tara and Kim were beating her down until Velvet Sky made the save. No match. However, Sky & Terrell were doing an interview backstage after when Terrell saw Kim and Terrell ran off the interview set and attacked Kim in the hallway. I guess the idea is that Terrell has a short fuse.

Jeremy Borash was backstage to introduce Adam Pearce and Magno as next week’s Gut Check competitors. Obviously they didn’t mention Pearce as NWA champion, only as a 17-year veteran. They said Magno is from El Paso. He’s a long-time regular on Lucha Libre shows in that area.

Sting went to see Hulk Hogan. Atlas Security wouldn’t let him in the room.

Hulk was backstage talking to Jeff Hardy. He told Hardy that his rematch would be on April 11th in Corpus Christi. Given that the announcers had been talking about that for an hour, that was weird. He blamed himself for what happened, saying he hand–picked Bully Ray and by locking him in a cage, they stole the world title and he apologized to Hardy. Hardy said that it’s okay, because he’s made a lot of mistakes in his life but he doesn’t dwell on the past and lives for the future. He told Hardy that because of what happened, he’d give him the right to pick the stipulation for the title match. Just then, Sting’s music started playing. Hogan got mad, saying he never booked Sting on the show.

Sting was in the ring and said how Bully Ray swerved everyone. Sting said he needed to fix this problem, but the only way he could was to be on the same page as Hogan. He said Hogan hasn’t listened to him so he’s calling Hogan out. Great, so that makes two challenges in a row that won’t lead to matches. Hogan came out. He’s walking better and had a crutch with him but can get around with it. Sting said he wanted to apologize to Hogan, but that if Hogan doesn’t accept the apology, things could get nuclear. Hogan said that he should have listened to his own gut and instincts because he knew Bully Ray was rotten to the core. But he said Dixie Carter and Sting kept saying how he’s changed. He said it was Sting who pushed that we needed him on the team and it was because of Sting that he didn’t listen to his gut and he made a decision that messed up the entire company. Sting said that in the end, it was Hogan’s decision and he had to take responsibility for it. Hogan said he was willing to take being accountable as the guy who made the decision, but now he’s tired of hearing crap about Bully Ray, he’s tired of Sting getting in his face and told Sting to “get the hell out of my ring.” Fans booed Hogan for that. Sting said, “Make me.” Security jumped in as Hogan tore off his T-shirt. Crowd was into all of this.

Sting was leaving the arena and as he was on the way out backstage, Matt Morgan talked about how it was yet another Hogan mistake. Pretty clear they’re building up something big for Morgan.

James Storm came out and he called out A.J. Styles for Fight Night. So that made the third challenge that didn’t lead to a match in a row. Styles was in the crowd. Storm said that he understands what Styles is going through because he lost a match last year and went home, but he picked himself back up and came back. Yeah, and came back way less over so it’s not really the best path to copy. Storm said we could do it one of two ways. I was dreading that hard way or the easy way line. Actually, the choices were they could drink a beer together and talk it out, or they could fight it out. Aces and 8s hit the ring. It was Doc & Brisco & Bischoff. They all attacked Storm. Styles walked away rather than save Storm. Young and angle instead made the save and Angle issued a challenge for a match. We were 75 minutes into the show and this was the second match.

Angle & Young & Storm beat Brisco & Bischoff & Doc in 14:28. Bischoff blew the first spot as he was sent into the ropes, but got his signals crossed and didn’t go into the ropes. So they did the spot again. After that, it was a standard trios match mostly working over Storm. Angle hot tagged in and gave a killer German suplex to Doc, a belly-to-belly to Brisco and a German suplex to Bischoff. He then gave an Olympic slam to Brisco. D-Lo Brown came out and distracted Angle. Angle put the ankle lock on Bischoff, but Brisco was the legal man and he pinned Angle with a schoolboy. The big tag line is that when you’re with Aces and 8s, you never walk alone.

They cut backstage where Bully, Devon and Anderson were drinking beer. Anderson was going crazy backstage and grabbed a hammer.

They did mention the X Division PPV on 4/5 briefly, but not in a way where anyone will buy the thing. They announced Sonjay Dutt vs. Mason Andrews vs. Petey Williams for an X title shot, and that the TNA title and tag titles would be at stake in two weeks.

Main event saw Anderson beat Hardy via DQ in 10:49. Anderson now just looks like some generic guy in a jacket. Still, the crowd was hot for this, because they see Hardy as a big star. Anderson knocked down ref Earl Hebner accidentally on purpose. The idea was it was supposed to look like an accident but done so obvious so we’re supposed to think it wasn’t, as opposed to usual ref bumps, which are supposed to look like they are accidental. Brisco came out and gave Anderson the hammer. He went to hit Hardy, but Hardy ducked and gave Anderson the twist of fate. After Earl Hebner got up, he saw Hardy hit Anderson in the gut with the hammer for the DQ. After the match, Hardy hit Anderson in the back with a chair. Then Hardy pulled out a table. Hardy then brought a ladder into the ring. Anderson tried to suplex Hardy on the table, but Hardy gave him a second twist of fate. He put Anderson on the table. Hardy went to the top of the ladder with the idea he was going to jump off and put Anderson through the table. But Bully Ray ran in and pulled Anderson off the table and outside the ring. Hardy then announced his title shot with Bully Ray would be no DQ, no rules, and Full Metal Mayhem, basically a TLC match.

Notes from the second show that will air on 4/4. The second show from those live it was said wasn’t nearly as good as the live show. Adam Pearce pinned Magno in the Gut Check match. To me, Gut Check should be for young talent as opposed to Pearce, who is 17 years in and has talked of retirement of late. Magno blew a spot early bad and the crowd groaned. It’ll be interesting if they fix it in editing or go with the idea it’s Gut Check and you see the misses. They got the crowd back into it by the end.

Kim & Tara beat Sky & Terrell with Joey Ryan as referee. Ryan was there trying to come on to the women. Kim pinned Terrell after Ryan gave a fast count. After the match, Terrell and Sky gave Ryan a low blow.

An X division qualifier saw the returning Petey Williams with a shaved had, winning over Mason Andrews (Scorpio Sky) and Sonjay Dutt. Andrews had been in some of the early Kane & Daniel Bryan videos in WWE, but he made a stupid remark on Twitter and that made WWE cut all ties with him. Williams will be getting an X Division title shot in a three-way against champ Kenny King plus Zema Ion coming up soon. The idea is, the guy who doesn’t get pinned in the three-way X title match will be in the next three-way with the champion and the third guy will come from a three-way TV match.

They did a contract signing ceremony with Aries & Roode vs. Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez. The key to the segment was the announcement that Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez could never team up again in TNA if they don’t win the title. Given it’s in Corpus Christi, that could mean a title change. Just the fact they’re doing it in a contract signing segment makes it appear someone writing the show saw the Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood vs. Sgt. Slaughter & Don Kernodle build.

It was announced that Styles would have to wrestle Storm on the Corpus Christi show. Aces and 8s tried to recruit Styles. It was also mentioned that TNA had fired D-Lo Brown from whatever the televised version of his role was.

Doc & Devon & Knox & Bischoff & Brisco beat Samoa Joe & Magnus & Joseph Park & Eric Young & Angle. The match was said to be fairly good.

The show ended with Bully’s go-home promo for the following main event. Ray said that Hardy had to be the stupidest person in the world for challenging him to a Full Metal Mayhem match. Bully also said that Brooke Hogan (or should it be Brooke Bully, Brooke Ray or Brooke Dudley?) is crazy. Brooke was there. Ray said she was crazy because she got so upset and insane after Lockdown when she should have been happy because her husband had just won the world title. Ray came out with an envelope, and said it was a front row ticket (not sure if it was for Corpus Christi or the Boston PPV) to see him defend his title. She tore up the ticket and slapped him in the face. Ray was laughing and said he’s in Brooke’s head. Hardy then attacked Bully. They teased Bully putting Hardy through a table, but Hardy hit the twist of fate. He then put Ray on a table, climbed up the ladder and dove off, putting Ray through the table.

The first show on Fox Sports 1 will be on 8/17 from the TD Garden in Boston. Given it’s not just the company’s first show on a new station, but it’s the actual debut night of the station itself, there’s going to be pressure to put on a much larger than usual television card. Plus, it’s Boston, and Dana White has soft spot in his heart for that city given he lived there for years.

Jon Jones, 25, asked his longtime girlfriend Jessie Moses, to marry him. This took place on Easter Sunday. The two have been together since high school. They already have three daughters together. Jones was expected to wrestle at Iowa, where, if you watch how dominant his wrestling has been in MMA thus far, he probably would have been a major star. He first, due to grades, had to go to junior college at Iowa Central where he won the junior college national title, when Moses got pregnant. He left school and was looking for a job when he heard about MMA and started fighting. He excelled at it quickly and was only in the sport for 15 months, compiling a 6-0 record, before Joe Silva brought him into UFC where he’s essentially an unbeaten world champion (his only career loss, a DQ to Matt Hamill, was a fight where he destroyed Hamill and the ref called a DQ for an illegal elbow blow at the time Hamill was finished).

Josh Neer, Caros Fodor, Jon Manley and Brock Jardine were all reported a being cut by UFC. All lost on the 2/23 show in Anaheim. Neer’s loss to Court McGee was his third in a row, and even if they weren’t in a major cutting mode, he would have likely been cut. Fodor lost a split decision to Sam Stout in his first UFC fight on the same 2/23 show. For what it’s worth, I had Stout taking the fight. Fodor had lost to Pat Healy in his prior Strikeforce fight, but before that, had won five in a row. Manley lost his UFC debut on the show via decision. Jardine lost to Kenny Robertson via submission and went 0-2 in UFC.

The roster is, depending on how much you want to account for leeway due to injuries, somewhere around 75-100 names larger than they have spots to allow guys to fight regularly on.

With announcer Jon Anik’s wife expecting a girl at any moment, he’s taken off the 4/6 show in Stockholm, and Mike Goldberg will be doing the show with Kenny Florian. Anik is also scheduled for the 4/13 show in Las Vegas for the Ultimate Fighter finals, and it depends on whether or not she gives birth and what her status is if he can do the show.

RYU (Respect Your Universe), a clothing line and lifestyle brand that sponsored a lot of fighters, announced this week they were getting out of the MMA business after losing a reported $2.6 million.

Dan Hardy, having been diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, the same heart ailment that pro wrestler MVP has, said he is not going to undergo heart surgery because the ailment doesn’t bother him. Without the surgery, there is a question if he can get licensed after California, on advice from the cardiologist who examined him, would not license him for a 4/20 fight in San Jose with Matt Brown. Hardy had 36 pro fights before there was an inkling of the problem he was born with. MVP had surgery, recovered quickly, and it had no effect on his career. Hardy, without getting the surgery, his career is in limbo. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is not dangerous for roughly 99.5% of the people who have it, but that tiny percentage unlucky can suddenly drop dead from it. “Surgery is not an option,” said Hardy, 30, who once headlined one of UFC’s biggest PPV events ever against Georges St-Pierre. “I’ve never had any symptoms or problems. I’m of the opinion that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Nick Diaz, who officially helped draw Georges St-Pierre’s biggest PPV number to date, is saying that he’s retired from fighting unless he gets either a rematch with St-Pierre or a match with Anderson Silva. Neither of those fights are likely to take place without him coming back and scoring a series of wins.

The Ultimate Fighter season is just about over, with the semifinals airing on 4/9 with Uriah Hall vs. Dylan Andrews and Kelvin Gastelum vs. Josh Samman. The two winners face off live on the 4/13 FX show from Las Vegas. Right about when the season started, we were pretty much told Hall was going to come out of the season as a star if he could win in the final. The quarterfinals which aired on 3/26 and 4/2, saw Gastelum (Team Sonnen) beat Collin Hart with a quick knockout and Andrews (Team Jones) beat Luke Barnatt via overtime decision. Andrews vs. Barnatt was notable because Barnatt was the first person chosen, and Andrews was the left guy left unchosen at the end of the picks. Samman (Team Jones) beat Jimmy Quinlan (Team Sonnen) by pounding him on the ground and Quinlan tapped late in thee first round. In the other fight, Hall (Team Sonnen) beat Bubba McDaniel by decking him with a short right counter and finishing him on the ground in :09. Hall already had one of the best knockouts in UFC history earlier this season with his first win.

The company signed its second Chinese fighter this past week, a 25-0 bantamweight named Jumabieke Tuerxun. Super cards in China doesn’t necessarily mean a lot since Teiquan Zhang came into WEC at 13-0 and since then has gone 2-4.

“UFC Magazine Australia” has folded. The magazine, run by an Australian distributor and licensing the UFC name, started in 2011 and the issue that hit the stands last week will be the final issue.

Added to the 7/6 show in Las Vegas is Frankie Edgar vs. Charles Oliveira and Dennis Siver vs. Cub Swanson. UFC also, as we’d reported months ago, officially announced a Fan Expo for 7/5 and 7/6. I expect there will be a Hall of Fame ceremony as well, not like WWE, at least not yet, but at some point there probably will be something at least somewhat like that.

Raphael Assuncao signed a new four-fight deal.

Brian Bowles vs. George Roop and Dennis Bermudez vs. Max Holloway were both added to the 5/25 PPV in Las Vegas.

C.B. Dollaway pulled out of the 5/18 show in Santa Catarina with an injury, so Cezar Ferreira now faces Chris Camozzi.

The next-to-last show of the spring season on 3/28 in Tampa was built around two tournament finals. In the main event, Emanuel Newton (21-7-1), followed his huge upset win over King Mo Lawal, with a 29-28 decision win over Mikhal Zayats (21-7) to win $100,000 and this season’s light heavyweight tournament. Newton was working for a choke late in the first round and scored a knockdown in the third which clinched it for him. Newton will face Attila Vegh for the title on a date to be determined. The lightweight tournament came down to David Rickels (14-1) beat Saad Awad (14-5) on a somewhat controversial call. Rickels landed a combination with about a second left in the round, and then the bell sounded before Awad went down. Ref Troy Waugh waved it off. The controversy was the round had ended, but to me, it was a knockout based on the way he fell and that he took a while getting up. The argument was Waugh should have asked him if he was okay before waving it off, but this wasn’t a knockdown and he was fine, he was down for several seconds and not moving. Even if he can get up a minute later, once a guy takes a blow like that and may be knocked out, it’s not 20 years ago with saved by the bell. When you’re hurt enough to be done, and Awad was, saved by the bell is fine for a submission but not a knockout. Rickels is now in line for a title shot, but it becomes tricky. Dave Jansen won last season’s lightweight tournament where the finals were delayed until 3/21, so he should get the next shot. But if Bellator and Eddie Alvarez reach a settlement on their contract issue and Alvarez signs, Bellator has to put Michael Chandler vs. Alvarez on PPV as soon as possible or breach the contract. At that point, Rickels is going to be out of action a long time waiting for Chandler. Even without an injury and no Alvarez we’re talking the end of the year, if there’s an injury and/or Alvarez comes back, it could be well into 2014. What would be interesting is if a challenger, who wants to fight rather than wait, loses. In UFC, they’d lose their title shot (unless they were Nick Diaz or Chael Sonnen). Bellator has never had that situation. The other two TV fights saw Rodrigo Lima (11-1) beat Ronnie Mann (21-6-1) to earn a spot in the upcoming bantamweight tournament, and Luis Melo (29-11-3) beat Trey Houston (10-2) via third round arm triangle to earn a spot in the next welterweight tournament. Two interesting names were on the undercard. Former UFC fighter Tony Fryklund, now 42, who hadn’t fought since 2007, went to a draw with Patrick Cenoble in one. Edson Berto, the brother of boxing star Andre Berto and son of Dieusuel Berto (a star in the Florida territory in the late 80s, who did the worked shoot stuff in Japan and later fought in UFC), used a heel hook to beat Bruno Carvalho.

Ken Shamrock, 49, has signed to fight former UFC fighter Ian Freeman, 42, on 7/27 in Doncaster, England. It’s been more than two years since Shamrock’s last fight, a 2:00 loss to Mike Bourke. Needless to say Shamrock shouldn’t be fighting at this stage of the game, but you could have made that statement for years now.

As far as a comparison with the 210,000 audience figure that the last World Series of Fighting show did on 3/23, the last two boxing matches on NBC Sports did 140,000 on 1/19 and 203,000 on 2/23. The peak rating for the 3/23 show was 332,000 viewers, for the Andrei Arlovski vs. Anthony Johnson main event.

In some controversy out of the Arlovski vs. Johnson match, apparently they started the official clock late in the first round because it went eight seconds long. The problem is that the punch that broke Arlovski’s jaw, and both knockdowns, came in the last five seconds of the round, or after the 5:00 should have expired. Johnson still would have won that first round. It’s not an issue with the promotion, because it’s the New Jersey Athletic Control Board that is in charge of timekeeping. Ironically, New Jersey and Nevada are generally considered the two best state commissions.

Allanna Jones has accepted a match with Fallon Fox, which would be Fox’s first fight since it became public knowledge she was originally a man. The fight is scheduled for the Championship Fighting Alliance on 5/24 in Sunrise, FL. The match still has to be approved by the Florida commission. A number of women fighters have said they would refuse a match with Fox. Interestingly, Renee Richards, 78, the most famous transgender athlete ever, said that she believes it is unfair for Fox (and there is apparently at least one hour former man competing on the women’s MMA circuit) to fight against women. Richards was a male tennis player who became a doctor, who disappeared from tennis. He came back several years later as Dr. Renee Richards, and eventually it came out she was the former Richard Raskind. It was a huge controversy in the late 70s. The reality was even in her mid-40s, she had more power than the women players did, but because of her age, was far slower than any of the women competing at that level. Still, she ranked as high as No. 20 in the world at the age of 45, as excelled in doubles where she didn’t have to cover as much ground. The commission is expected to rule on the fight within the next week. Former Strikeforce fighters Mike Kyle vs. Valentijn Overeem is the main event on that show.

Rory Markham, a former UFC and IFL fighter from the Pat Miletich camp, was arrested in Iowa on a felony willful injury charge on 3/27 before being released on $10,000 bond.

MAV TV will be airing the comeback of Tank Abbott, 47, (10-14) who takes on veteran Ruben “Warpath” Villareal (21-25), 43, on 4/13 on a King of the Cage show from Oroville, CA. Abbott was one of UFC’s most popular fighters during its early years, including going to the finals in two different tournaments.

Dwayne Johnson did a ton of talk shows this week promoting G.I. Joe. On several, he made no mention of wrestling. When he was on some shows, he did talk about it and others briefly. He was booked for G.I. Joe and I would expect there were ground rules of what was to be discussed in every interview beforehand. Given that he’s getting a percentage of the increase as part of his deal, I would suspect he would have plugged Mania, since it’s so big, when he could have. But some shows may have rules of how much he can plug and G.I. Joe is what got him booked. On with Jimmy Kimmel, who is a wrestling fan, he brought his WWE title belt with him and pushed WrestleMania hard. He joked that if he won the match, then it was real. If he lost, then it was phony. He also talked about his training. One of his talking points on all the shows has been about his training for the Hercules movie. He’s been dieting strict and only gives himself one cheat day every two months or so, but on that day, goes crazy with pizza and pancakes and whatever he wants. A normal day is seven meals with very low fat. He does a 4 a.m. workout with no trainer and a later workout with a personal trainer. The 4 a.m. workout is cardio. He talked about his first match being in 1996 in Corpus Christi against Brooklyn Brawler, before 15,000 fans. Well, I don’t know about 15,000 fans. He said he wasn’t ready so he was sent to Nashville where he worked at car dealerships and barns with no security going to the ring (the Flex Kavana days).

“G.I. Joe Retaliation,” starring Johnson, grossed $40,501,814 over the three-day weekend, but actually had a five-day open, so the first five days was $51,008,689. The studio was predicting $40 million over the five-days, but that was also going to be considered a disappointment. It was No. 1 by a wide margin, and at press time had topped $131 million worldwide. The movie had a $130 million budget, but that doesn’t mean it’s broken even at this point. But it is a definite success as far as box office goes, as it was the second biggest Easter weekend gross in the history of the U.S. movie business. The movie did not get a good critical response, as Rotten Tomatoes listed 29% favorable reviews. As far as those who actually saw the movie, they had 64% positive comments. “The Call,” was No. 7 in its third week out at $4,925,675 which would be a normal level drop. It’s at $39,605,891 with a $13 million budget (generally you have to do about double your budget to break even because of all the different hands in the pie, but this movie should be a moneymaker for WWE). Spring Breakers (Jeff Jarrett small role) was No. 9 at $2,774,146 and is at $10,074,433 on a $5 million budget. “Snitch,” another Johnson movie, was No. 14 at $44,457 and is at $41,353,859. “Dead Man Down,” the WWE movie in week four, was down to $28,623, so it’s basically done at $10,764,613, so it’s a loser.

Punk, in an IGN.com interview when talking about the match with Undertaker, said, “I expect the best from myself, no more, no less. Don’t know what anybody else expects from this match given (his) year away from the ring and possibly his physical condition, or the fact that I don’t have a Hell in a Cell or all these different kinds of stipulations, like no disqualification, to work with. But I like it when they handcuff me. I always seem to find a way to make it the best it can be, given the circumstances.” He noted when asked his dream opponent at WrestleMania, unlike most, it would not be Undertaker, citing it would be either Cena or Austin. When asked about mocking Lawler’s heart attack and Paul Bearer’s death, he said, “I’m the bad guy they’re supposed to hate me. I don’t think there is a line, and if there is, it’s my job to jump over it.” Well, there’s a line between what works and what doesn’t work, and Punk if anyone should have learned it based on how many people turned off their TV sets during the Lawler deal last year. Taste is something you can argue, but when you get turn off the TV set heat or people groan, then you can talk about all your theories of what you’re supposed to do as a heel but it only makes you dumb to the goals of the business. That said, as far as the ratings went, the final segment was strong, but that’s misleading in the sense the pouring of the ashes didn’t get a big reaction, and was in the last seconds of the show and thus the rating really doesn’t measure if there was a negative reaction because the show ended.

Michael Moody, Paul’s son, wrote, “If anyone is wondering, yes, WWE did come to us wanting approval for tonight’s storyline. The way it was presented to us was okay. Seeing it on the screen was a different story. I don’t even know what to say.” Daniel Moody, who wrestles as D.J. Pringle, said, “Totally different,” but wouldn’t say anymore. But then WWE sent out a text that Michael Moody sent them, which said, “Hey, I woke up in time to watch the tail end of the show. What you explained would happen happened. Which is fine. Just it was a little difficult to watch it play out. I put a message on Facebook last night saying that we approved it but it wasn’t what I envisioned. That I didn’t have anything to say. Well, woke up this morning and that quote is being used all over media outlets. For the record, was fine with it. Was hard to watch but ya’ll are professional and I trust.”

The company was nominated for Six Shorty Awards, which are Social Media awards. WWE was nominated for Best Overall Brand Presence on Twitter, Best Use of a Hashtag (#RiseAboveCancer for their partnership with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure); Best Overall Brand Presence on Facebook; Best Use of Social Media for Television (a year ago I’d have nominated them for worse use of social media for television but they’ve toned it down and they make good use of it); Best Use of Social Media for Video games; and Best Branded YouTube channel. The award winners will be announced on 4/8.

The laugh out loud quote of the week comes from WWE CFO George Barrios, when asked at the Roth Capital Partners meeting two weeks ago the one question the company hates more than any other, the one about UFC being competition and beating them on PPV. “People always ask me, `Well, what about UFC? Are they a competitor? Are they taking a share?’ Look, UFC, I’ve been to an event. It’s a lot of guys. It’s a lot of cigars, and a lot of smoke. Our age distribution marries to the country. And if you go to a show, you really see this live. I have three daughters, so I go to a lot of Disney on Ice events. It looks like our event. It’s a lot of grandparents, parents and kids. And that’s why our composition is the way it is.” How he can even say that with a straight face is beyond me. First off, every major arena in the country has a smoking ban. The old “smoky arena” bullshit hasn’t been around since the 80s anywhere for any event. I’ve been to God knows how many UFC events and have yet to see my first cigar at a show. And I also have young kids, which means I’ve been to Disney on Ice every year for a number of years. The comparison of the audience with that of WWE isn’t even close. For a PPV or TV taping in particular, there is no comparison. Because a lot of adults skip house shows, the smaller groups do have more kids, but they are older than a Disney crowd and far more male skewed whereas the Disney on Ice crowd is tons of little girls. They are completely different crowds. Disney on Ice has very little in the way of teenage boys or 18-30 year old men unless they are bringing their children. If anything, the UFC live crowds in a lot of cities I’ve been to are almost exactly like the pro wrestling crowds in those same cities except obviously way more in the 25-40 age group range to make up for so few under the age of 20 and almost nobody over 45, although WWE really doesn’t draw many over 45 these days either even though that makes up more than 43% of its TV viewership. In the old days of wrestling, yeah, you’d get people from 5 to 85 and it was a spread out audience, I don’t know about mirroring society because even then it was far more male than female. All wrestling audiences are different as are UFC and MMA audiences, other than the cigar and smoky room is as dishonest a statement as could ever be made. UFC crowds in Las Vegas and San Jose are completely different from a pro wrestling crowd. UFC crowds I’ve been to in Sacramento and Philadelphia in particular were exactly like pro wrestling crowds I’ve been to in those same cities (not ECW at all, but WCW and WWF in Philadelphia from the 80s, very similar). Smaller MMA shows I’ve been to in San Jose, Stockton, San Francisco, etc. were almost exactly in makeup like the pro wrestling crowds I grew up with, with the exception of less kids and less older fans but 18-45 it’s almost the same as far as how they look and how they dress.

The other thing he noted is that both the Raw and Smackdown U.S. TV contracts are coming due over the next two years. I believe Smackdown is due in September. They are hoping for huge increases in rights fees, noting what has happened in the sports world with rights fees. Their new pitch is that they are like sports in the sense people watch live instead of on DVR.

The Jerry Lawler Wrestling Museum opened up over the weekend at the Wynn Automotive Dealership in Memphis. Wynn Automotive asked Lawler if they could display some of his memorabilia and put it on display, but one thing led to another and they decided to turn it into a museum at their dealership. Among the items were the AWA heavyweight title belt that Lawler won from Curt Hennig in 1988 (he never returned it to the AWA, which started using a new belt after that point, because the AWA never paid him for a subsequent Superclash PPV and then stripped him of the title when he stopped working for the AWA after that point). They also have Lawler ring costumes, articles, Lawler art work and more. They will also air on the screens old Lawler matches from the heyday of Memphis wrestling. The museum has free admission. It’ll be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday through Saturday.

Charlie Sheen, Jimmy Fallon, Larry King, Mike Tyson, Piers Morgan and Gabriel Iglesias have signed on as Social Media Ambassadors for WrestleMania.

The company announced a partnership with the Special Olympics of Connecticut. As part of the deal, WWE will make an annual financial contribution, they will publicize the cause throughout all of their platforms, WWE employees will volunteer at Special Olympics events in the area and in some cases work as coaches. They will also be the announced sponsor of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run, Connecticut’s largest Special Olympics fundraiser and public awareness event in June, which leads into the annual Special Olympics that take place in early June at Southern Connecticut State University.

The company hired Gerrit Meier as the new Executive Vice President of International. He’ll be in charge of exactly what it says, reporting directly to Vince McMahon, in one of the key jobs in the company. He came from Spotify, the commercial music streaming provider, where he was Global General Manager for Distribution and Partnerships and he was responsible for putting together partnerships with such heavyweights as Coca Cola, Yahoo and Target. He also created the iHeart Radio brand for Clear Channel. From someone close to the situation, he was one of the key players in digitization of the music industry, but has zero knowledge of wrestling, the WWE brand, or marketing the WWE brand at this point. He’s also coming from a company with a very upbeat corporate environment, that doesn’t have the negativity associated with working in the wrestling business. He wanted to change directions in life and lived in Connecticut, so WWE was suggested and they hired him, hopeful his knowledge of the German and overall European market will help. The feeling is that the U.K. is going to be a success no matter what and doesn’t need much more attention than they give it, but other European markets, like Germany, need a lot. He was described as very bright, positive and energetic.

It’s now been exactly ten years since Austin had his final match at WrestleMania 19 in Seattle, losing to Rock. Austin is now 48, and he’s had a lot of injuries since that time. There are always rumors of him coming back at a WrestleMania, and obviously this one would have been the wrong once since in theory it didn’t need him, but those close to him have always been pretty negative when the subject comes up.

Ricky Steamboat is no longer a coach in developmental. He is staying with the company in another role. The official company word is that he is staying within the talent relations department. Steamboat gave a speech on 3/28 in Tampa saying that the company felt that because of his name value, they could use him better as a goodwill ambassador, although others have said he’s taking a different spot because goodwill ambassador doesn’t fit into talent relations. A lot of the guys in developmental were bummed, because of who he is. He was said to be a very good coach overall and most of the people grew up with him as the consumate babyface worker. There was talk some of his ideas didn’t fit in with the current product but if anything any negative said about him was very minor. There’s always the paranoia in wrestling over anyone leaving a position and a few months ago I was told to watch out for this to happen and it did, so either coincidence or more likely it was something that people could see coming.

Ryan Ward, who is on the Raw/Smackdown writing crew is very well liked by those at NXT, where he writes the TV. In addition to his regular work on the main shows, he wrote five different shows at the last taping and it was said to be the best taping they had. In NXT, he’s gotten the reputation of being easy to work with, and that he’s got a good mind for understanding why a lot of the angles from the past worked, had a great knowledge of successful angles from the past and a grasp of how to use them in a modern context.

They’ve hired a new strength and conditioning coach. He hasn’t started full-time but he’s a guy who is a friend of HHH’s personal trainer, Joe DeFranco.

Two guys praised to me who didn’t come from the independents that are doing well in developmental and will probably make it are Mojo Rawley (Dean Muhtadi) and Jason Jordan (Nathan Everhart). Rawley, a big lineman type played at Maryland, was noted for being a great athlete, very strong and good quickness. When he was with the Arizona Cardinals in 2010 (he was cut in preseason after suffering an injury) he was lauded as the strongest guy on the team. Jordan was a former Division I wrestler at the University of Indiana who went to nationals, but was never an All-American. Rawley has probably had less than 20 matches but has a good look and great natural charisma. Jordan, who has been out for a while due to injuries, but has just returned, is the guy we’ve written about because he looks a lot like a young Butch Reed (a top star in the 80s), with the physique and athletic ability. I’m told he’s actually got a good personality and off TV is a charismatic person, but needs to learn how to utilize that in front of the camera. As far as in-ring working, he picked the wrestling up remarkably fast.

Rami Sebei, the former El Generico, has been doing great on promos in practice which is something people questioned since his indie gimmick wasn’t talking.

Ric Flair’s daughter Ashley, known as Charlotte, is the most athletic woman in developmental and probably on the entire roster, but it was tough for her at first because she’d never done this. But she’s developed a passion for it.

Ivan Koloff is being brought to WrestleMania with his wife. He hasn’t done anything involved with the promotion in more than 30 years. He’s being brought in for some interviews for DVDs, likely including the WWE 50 year history DVD they are working on for later this year, and an individual Bruno Sammartino DVD. In the pre-expansion era, one could make a case that the biggest match in WWWF history, and certainly one of the three or four biggest, was Koloff’s January 18, 1971, win over Sammartino at Madison Square Garden that ended Sammartino’s seven plus year run as champion. Koloff won the match clean with a kneedrop off the top rope, with the only storyline out being that they made mention that Sammartino was going into the match injured due to a separated shoulder from an attack by George Steele. What was notable about Koloff, who had been a headliner in the territory dating back to late 1969 when he was brought in from Montreal, is that by beating Sammartino, he instantly became the hottest heel they’d had since Buddy Rogers. However, it was considered such dangerous heat that they only had him stay a few more weeks, and he left for the AWA after losing the title three weeks later to Pedro Morales. There was no Morales rematch in New York, nor another Sammartino vs. Koloff match, both of which would have been easy sellouts at the time. In late 1975, when Sammartino regained the title he had many sellouts with Koloff based off the result of that match. HHH called Koloff to come in, and it’s said that Koloff is likely for the 2014 Hall of Fame.

Regarding the Fandango, “What’s my name,” gimmick, aside from the obvious being Ric Flair doing it in pro wrestling in the late 70s, and it coming from Muhammad Ali, Ali’s opponent that he did it the first time was more likely Ernie Terrell and not Floyd Patterson. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali in 1964, fought Patterson for the first time in 1965 (they had a rematch in 1972) and fought Terrell in 1967 at the Astrodome in Houston. He very definitely did that the entire fight with Terrell, who he beat up for 15 rounds and refused to knock out. There are stories listing it was Patterson, but that may be people mixing it up. I could find tons of references to Terrell’s fight and coverage stating it, and none brought up Patterson, which you think they would have if it was the second time he did it. There was stuff saying it was Patterson, but it was stuff written many years after the fact. Every time he hit Terrell he’d say “What’s my name.” In the 12th round, after taking a savage beating, when Ali said “What’s my name,” Terrell said “Muhammad Ali.” Flair’s version of it was saying, “What’s my name, tell ‘em my name.”

Newsday ran a story on Foley going into the Hall of Fame talking about his high school days as the son of Jack Foley, the longtime athletic director at Ward-Melville High, where Foley and actor Kevin James were classmates. The school’s gym was named after his father, the Dr. Jack Foley Gym. Foley played JV football and basketball as a sophomore, but wasn’t much of a shooter. He was best at lacrosse, where he got some college offers. He wrestled as a heavyweight, but James was the school’s heavyweight and Foley was his understudy and workout partner. Foley was the starting heavyweight when James suffered a back injury.

Undertaker is booked on the 4/23 Smackdown tapings in London. Not sure if he’ll appear on the show or it’s just hope that booking him in a short dark match will help sell tickets, since it’s been difficult on recent U.K. tours to sell a lot of tickets to the Smackdown tapings since they’re running the same building both nights, and the O2 in a large arena. Every advance for the European tour was considered good except for the London Smackdown tapings, which is why he was added. Not everything is sold out, but everything is good and markets are ahead of where they were on recent tours, so it’s being taken as a good sign.

Pee Wee Herman on his facebook page on 3/31 wrote about WrestleMania with the words, “See you there,” indicating at the least he’s there to help publicize the show if not play a part in it.

Sin Cara has been cleared to return after missing a few weeks with a concussion. At one point there was talk of him working with Cesaro at Mania which is why Cesaro hasn’t had any direction.

The former Mascarita Dorada, who was probably the best mini in Mexico, is in developmental. It’s notable because WWE doesn’t use “midgets” and I could see him being used more in a mascot role like Hornswoggle, aimed at little kids. I’m not sure stylistically Hornswoggle would be a great foe for him but Dorada would almost have to be a face and I guess at this point going heel with Hornswoggle could revitalize him since he’s pretty much disappeared of late. Hornswoggle is heavy enough that if he was taught how to be a good base, they could probably do some cool stuff. At the same time, WWE brought in Mexican minis in the 90s including Tzuki, who was incredible back then, and they made him more comedy and it never really clicked.

Notes from the go-home show on 4/1 in Washington, DC. They taped a little bit of everything before another sold out crowd of more than 13,500 paid. Most of the shows will be filled this week with promotional videos and replays with little in the way of new match content. They opened with Khali pinning JTG in a match for Superstars. For Saturday Morning Slam they had Kingston pinning Gabriel in a good match.

For Smackdown, they had Ryback win a handicap match over Primo & Epico with Ryback had both guys up and nailed them with the shell shock. They did a skit where Rhodes & Sandow and the Bella Twins dressed up as Clay & Tensai & Naomi & Cameron. Rhodes was Tensai with the Japanese writing on his forehead. Eventually, the faces came out. They had a brawl with the heels bailing. Swagger beat Kingston with the ankle lock. That’s all they taped as the rest of Smackdown will be videos and stuff from Fan Axxess.

Raw opened with Cena coming out. He was booed heavily. He did a long promo, close to 15 minutes. He said he was in the middle of a house divided, noting he was in Washington, DC, and said the arena was filled with Cenacrats and Rockpublicans. The line was definitely more clever on paper because on the show it was a groaner. He said that everyone in the dressing room knows he and Rock don’t like each other but he respects Rock for being the global superstar that he is. He said last year he’d have made rude remarks, question his passion and commitment to WWE and then Rock would throw T-shirts into Fruity Pebbles. He said the childish games are over and this is much bigger. Rock is the defending WWE champion and over the last year he’s done everything he said he was going to do. Cena called Rock the greatest WWE champion of all-time. Then he talked about how people thought it was impossible that he (Cena) would win the Royal Rumble, that it was impossible that he would beat Punk to get the title shot and now they say it’s impossible for him to beat Rock and win the title. Which all would be well and good if there was even one fan who actually thought any of those things were impossible. He talked about how the Rock had brought out the new belt, which made for some really awkward and tricky verbiage since he was describing a belt without being allowed to use the word “belt.” He said how Rock has said he will be champion for as long as he pleases, but in his first defense, he will lose it. Yes, his first defense was against Punk in mid-February at the Elimination Chamber. I guess the idea that it’s the first defense of the new belt. But I sure thought it made no sense and got a ton of reaction from people who thought Cena and the writing team had forgotten the last PPV show. He said that after Mania, Rock will have to wake up every day and deal with the fact that the championship (belt) intended for him is being defended by me. He said he won’t replace the belt and will defend it as a symbol of beating Rock. At this point, there were fairly loud “boring” chants. Cena paused and actually waited until they were done, to make them more noticeable, and wouldn’t stop until they died down. He said holding the belt made for Rock will be a symbol that he’s not just Rock’s equal, but he’s better. Lawler then predicted Rock would win.

Orton & Sheamus & Show beat Slater & McIntyre & Mahal in 3:03. Seeing McIntyre in this role immediately set my brain back to Taryn Terrell on Impact and the idea you’ve got this women who is as hot as the surface on Antares who then opens her mouth and sounds like you’re being lectured by a middle-age school marm. McIntyre did a missile dropkick off the middle rope followed by a nip up, which is pretty good for a guy of his size. Lawler made a remark about how 3MB reminds him of a band he was in called “The Blank Checks” but we never got signed. Orton gave Slater the RKO, Sheamus gave McIntyre the Brogue kick and Show pinned Mahal after the knockout punch. The Shield once again came out. Instead of going to the ring, they stopped and cut a promo, with Ambrose saying that at WrestleMania, they are going to leave them on their backs wondering what went wrong. Reigns said about how Sheamus & Orton & Show aren’t a team.

Swagger & Colter were doing an interview in front of the Capitol Building. Swagger talked about how all great empires crumbled when people became weak, and our borders have become weak, our crime rates have exploded and our resources have been robbed. He said the country is suffocating and it’s time to say “No more.”

Del Rio was then interviewed by Striker who said that they have Freedom of Speech. He said they have the right to say what they want, but he’s has the right to do something about it at WrestleMania. He called Colter a pinata with a mustache.

Ziggler pinned Bryan in 10:58. Good match, but you really can’t get anything less than that from these two. Langston at one point distracted Bryan and Ziggler used a famouser for a near fall. At another point A.J. was skipping around Kane and distracted him so Langston could run him over like he was a human train. Bryan gave Langston a sliding kick, but in doing so, that allowed Ziggler to get the win with a schoolboy holding the trunks. Bryan was bleeding from the top of his nose. Langston then ran over Bryan and gave him the big ending. Kane hit the ring and knocked both down and was ready to give Langston a choke slam. Langston powered Kane’s hand off his throat and then laid Kane out with the big ending. A.J. then paraded around with the belts. Very effective segment with the key point establishing Langston as a monster because he overpowered Kane.

Michaels came out for a promo. Michaels said he had some serious doubts and a lot of questions. This brought out HHH. HHH said that he knew what he was doing and it was the same situation as with Michaels a few years ago. Michaels said that the two situations couldn’t be more different. Michaels said that when his career was on the line, he looked across the ring at someone he had and have the utmost respect for. He said he lost and it was heartbreaking, but he knew “my opponent” (for some reason it was like somebody said using the name Undertaker was banned from this conversation) was equally heartbroken. He said that you never saw “my opponent” brag about the fact he ended my career because he respected me that much. Michaels said, “he” (being Lesnar) doesn’t have an ounce of respect for you, these people, or anyone and I know you don’t respect him. He does this for money and to hurt people. Michaels said that he used to think this job was his life, and at one time it was, but then I met you and I realized I didn’t care about this job anywhere near as much as you do. He told HHH that he’s not just putting his career on the line, he’s putting his life on the line. HHH told Michaels that he wasn’t going to let him talk him out of doing the match. Michaels said he didn’t come here for that, he came here to tell HHH to kick Lesnar’s ass. He said that unlike at SummerSlam, he will be in his corner to watch him do that. There was no pop at all for Michaels saying he’d be in HHH’s corner at Mania which came off really awkward given he paused for the pop that wasn’t there. Michaels talked about having two words for ya, when Lesnar and Heyman came out. Heyman said that Lesnar would beat HHH into retirement, and that HHH would disappoint his father-in-law because he’ll show he can’t fight his battles for him anymore, he’s going to disappoint the Board of Directors because he won’t be able to fulfill hit duties as COO, he’s going to disappoint his wife, but he’s used to that anyway. He’s going to disappoint his best friend. Michaels took off his jacket. Lesnar was in the aisle laughing and Heyman said his client gets paid to fight. Heyman said that HHH should have walked away like Michaels walked away, because when the match is over, he won’t be able to walk away, he’s going to crawl away, a beaten, battered, emasculated retiree. He said Lesnar will cause the cerebral assassin to commit professional suicide.

Barrett pinned Ryder in 3:50 with the bull hammer elbow. Miz was on commentary for this match.

Vickie Guerrero and Brad Maddox were backstage. Marella came out and said Vince McMahon had just shown up and he was furious. It was pretty clear from the start they were doing this as an April Fool’s deal. Marella said how usually when McMahon is in this kind of a mood, somebody gets fired. Then he said “April Fool’s.” Vickie said that she never believed him. Marella then went behind Maddox and said it smelled like ca-ca. They really need to ban words that nobody over the age of six uses, instead of banning words like “belt.”

Henry pinned Marella with the world’s strongest slam in :52. Ryback then came out looking for revenge over the bench press angle on Smackdown. The deal is that there is a no contact rule. Now, based on the rule, you can shove a bar down a guy’s throat, probably shoot him with a gun or hit him with a chair and it’s okay, but you can’t touch him body to body. There was a Goldberg chant at this point. Henry brought up the no contact until WrestleMania storyline (which of course makes perfect sense since they wrestled three times over the weekend). Henry said he wanted to get his hands on him but tonight is not the night, and he smiled and walked away. Ryback then picked up Marella and rammed him into Henry from behind, knocking him out of the ring. Ryback then pressed Marella over head and dropped him over the top rope onto Henry. Ryback then said how he never touched Henry. As silly as the whole thing is, it came up kind of clever in it’s own way. Lots of “Feed Me More” chants.

Punk came out for an interview. He was asked about disrespecting the memory of Paul Bearer. Punk said the better question is whether he gives a damn about disrespecting the memory of Paul Bearer. He said he’s trying to get into Undertaker’s head, and he’s fixing to do what nobody else has been able to do, which is end Undertaker’s streak. He said that Paul Bearer used to have a streak of waking up every morning, but his streak is now over. He made a point that he would do whatever it took to win, and pushed the idea that a count out win still ends the streak, so I guess they’ll tease a count out spot during the match.

Del Rio beat Colter via DQ in :49. Swagger went after Rodriguez at ringside and took his crutch away and gave it to Colter. Swagger put Rodriguez in the ankle lock so De Rio jumped out of the ring to save him. Colter than hit Del Rio with the crutch for the DQ. Swagger then nailed Del Rio from behind with a chop block and Colter and Swagger each had one crutch and were beating on Del Rio with it. Rodriguez tried to make the save and Swagger knocked him off the apron. Swagger broke one of the metal crutches on Del Rio’s back, which was left with welts. This was a good final segment for their angle.

Rock come out. Crowd was super hot for him. He almost did the Hogan milk it face, but he cut that off. He talked about how much he liked Washington, DC, and how some day he might live in this town. He talked about maybe living in a big white house. Then he talked about going from President Barack to President The Rock. He asked the fans if they could count on his vote. There was a reaction for sure, but kind of a weird one. They weren’t exactly thinking the go-home promo for Mania would turn into a campaign speech. But he worked the people into reacting big to him. As for Cena, he said Cena was saying the same things he said last year and last year he got beat, and last week he got planted with a rock bottom. He said this match is not about redemption and it’s not about passing the torch. He said the only way Cena gets Rock’s torch is if he lights it on fire, Duraflames it and sticks it right up Cena’s candy ass. Big reaction to that close.

Jericho beat Cesaro in 12:45. JBL this week said that Fandango was a cross between Fred Astaire and Randy Couture. Does that mean 2.5 marriages? He then talked about how Jericho is the only WWE star on Dancing with the Stars who didn’t date George Clooney. Jericho hit a Frankensteiner off the top rope, and then Fandango came out to watch. He did a big entrance. Jericho had to stop wrestling and watch it and poor Cesaro had to lay there from that Frankensteiner for a good 45 seconds while Fandango danced around and the guys in the ring were supposed to do nothing. Fandango had scorecards like in Dancing with the Stars and would give Jericho’s moves scores. A springboard drop kick got a 2. A sledge off the top got a 4 and a quebrada got a 3. Cesaro was yodeling at one point. Jericho ended up winning clean with the Walls of Jericho. Fandango hit the ring and laid Jericho out again, using a legdrop off the top, and then a second legdrop off the top when Jericho was face down on the mat. Loud “You can’t wrestle” chants for Fandango while this was going on. Fandango did the “Say my name,” thing while beating up on Jericho. This had a lot of heat.

Bella Twins beat Naomi & Cameron in 4:43 when Brie pinned Cameron after reversing a crossbody. Naomi is really good and this match was fine.

Show ended with Undertaker out. The show was billed around the idea that Undertaker would eviscerate Punk verbally. Undertaker said that Punk’s title reign lasted more than 400 days but his pain will last an eternity. He said that Punk made this personal and beating Punk is no longer good enough due to the disrespect he showed to Paul Bearer. He said that will cause Punk to pay the ultimate price. Does this mean he has to listen to Tiffany interviews forever on a TV that has no picture? Undertaker said that, in fact, the streak may come to an end. That was supposed to be the key line and nobody reacted to it. I don’t think anyone buys that it’s possible. A bunch of druids showed up. The show grinded to a halt for a while until Paul Heyman, dressed up as Paul Bearer, showed up. Undertaker started attacking the Druids who stopped him from getting at Heyman. Then Punk came out of a druid costume to attack Undertaker. Punk hit Undertaker over-and-over again with the urn. He then dumped what we were supposed to believe were the ashes of Paul Bearer all over Undertaker. Punk also picked up some of the dust from the ground and threw it on himself as well. I liked the deal where Punk came out of the robe, but the attempt of shock value of dumping the ashes came off so sleazy, even by wrestling standards. People were quiet, not in shock but in that “Wow, did they really sink that low” quiet reaction. After Raw ended they still had Cena & Sheamus & Ryback over The Shield via DQ in the same match they’ve been doing for weeks after TV with Reigns hitting Cena with a chair, and then the Attitude Adjustment, Brogue kick and shell shock finish.

Notes from the 3/29 Smackdown show from Hershey, PA. The show opened with Rock coming out. He showed a clip from Raw and pointed out the look of desperation in Cena’s eyes. He then hold up a wrapper of a Hershey bar, since Hershey’s come from Hershey, PA. Then it was story time with the Rock. He brought up buying a car from a crackhead when he was living in Nashville. He noted that when he was 15, he and his family moved from Nashville to Bethlehem, PA, which is about an hour away from Hershey. He showed a photo of himself at the age of 15. He looked like UFC fighter Phil Davis. He talked about when he lived in Bethlehem, he and his friends would go on the weekends to Hershey Park and he would eat as much chocolate as he could. He told a story about not being able to find a Hershey bar anywhere in Hershey and when he finally found one left, somebody grabbed it before he did, and he said he looked at the person and said, “If you don’t put that candy down, I’m going to kick your candy ass.” He claimed the phrase candy ass came from Hershey, PA. He joked it was an old lady he said that to. He started cutting a promo on his match with Cena when John Laurinaitis returned. This gave Rock the chance to ask, “Who in the blue hell are you?” Laurinaitis said that Teddy Long had given him permission to talk to Rock. He explained that Long figured that he would talk to long and Rock would give him a rock bottom and that’s why he let him to out. But Laurinaitis told Rock, “We’re like two peas in a pod.” That was the line about Rock being the people’s champion and him being the guy behind People Power. Laurinaitis said that he was the greatest General Manager in history until he was ruined by Cena and Cena was the reason he was fired. He said Cena is also the reason he’s back. He asked Rock if he could be in his corner. The fans booed this suggestion. Laurinaitis said how, “They may not like it but do you want to be popular or do you want to win?” Laurinaitis said Rock knows that winning is about doing whatever it takes, at all costs. “With me, you’re guaranteed to win.” Rock then promised not to give Laurinaitis the rock bottom. Rock offered to shake Laurinaitis’ hand. They shook hands and Rock smiled and wouldn’t let go. Laurinaitis smiled back and tried to walk away but Rock wouldn’t let go, and gave Laurinaitis a spinebuster and the people’s elbow. He told Cena that at WrestleMania, his candy ass is going down.

Jericho pinned Barrett in 5:09 in a non-title match. The finish came when Barrett confronted Miz, who was at the desk doing commentary. Barrett then came back into the ring and walked into a codebreaker for the pin. Jericho noted with the way the stage was set up that Fandango must be coming out. He gave him more names, including Fandingbat, Fandoodle, Fannaki, Fandannydevito. When Fandango came out, John Layfield called him a cross between Baryshnikov (a famous Russian ballet dancer from another era) and Ken Shamrock. He was dancing his way to the ring, but instead of getting into the ring, he backed off and smiled to get easy heat.

Heyman did a taped interview. He was talking about the stips in the HHH vs. Lesnar match. He noted that if HHH lost, he’d have to retire as a wrestler but would still be COO. That’s good because at least it puts a thread of doubt in the ending as if he had to leave his office job, nobody would buy Lesnar winning. I’m not sure anyone does now. Heyman said after Lesnar wins, HHH will have to sit behind a desk and get mad watching the guys wrestle because he won’t be able to do it anymore. So he’ll resent the entire locker room, and won’t be able to lead them when he holds them in contempt and is jealous of them. And then the locker room will rise up against him and rebel. He said HHH made the two biggest mistakes of his career. The first is he thought he could compete with Heyman intellectually and he thought he could compete with Lesnar physically.

Next was the bench press challenge. JBL said it was like watching Arcidi vs. Kazmaier. I actually saw that in Calgary once and Kazmaier was supposed to win but he got light-headed lifting. Henry used smelling salts. They had 225 on the bar and said the world record was 51. Actually that’s the record at the NFL combine because there is no world record. Henry did 53. Ryback then did 53 when Henry shoved the bar down his throat. Mark Henry is super strong, but he’s also in his 40s and while very good bench presser, he was never a great bench presser let alone any kind of record setter in that lift. In the 80s when the gym I trained at housed some of the strongest men in the world, and there were guys there who were a hell of a lot stronger than Ryback (I don’t want to say stronger than Henry, because he’s legitimately super strong, but they were as strong or stronger on the bench), I’ve never seen anyone toy with 225 the way they were doing. So it didn’t look legit to me, particularly Ryback as the plates didn’t look thick enough and just didn’t look like normal 45s and just the way they sounded hitting the ground and how easily they were moved on the ground didn’t seen right. That is usual pro wrestling protocol. When the Road Warriors and Powers of Pain did their bench press deal in the 80s with Crockett Promotions, those weights were real. They were going to be worked weights but the guys insisted on real ones. When Ken Patera and Superstar Graham did their stuff in the AWA, even though both guys were super strong, they used worked weights (obviously, since the climactic scene of those weightlifting contests was Patera pressing more than 500 pounds overhead).

Bryan & Kaitlyn beat Ziggler & A.J. in 3:16. Langston interfered first. Kane then laid Langston out with a high kick on the floor. Bryan and Ziggler also went outside the ring and Bryan backdropped Ziggler over the barricade. In the ring Kaitlyn pinned A.J. with a spear.

The Shield did an interview for the Mania match.

Swagger & Colter came out for a promo. When talking about breaking Rodriguez’s ankle, Swagger said he broke a bone to bind a country together.

Swagger went to a double count out with Khali in 3:02. This wasn’t good. Khali got most of the offense early including a kick that missed bad that Swagger had to sell. Khali set up his chop but Swagger jumped out of the ring. When Khali stepped over the rope, Swagger snapped the leg over the ropes. Then he did a shoulderblock to the knee. They were fighting on the floor when Swagger got the ankle lock on and both were counted out of the ring. Swagger kept the move on until Hornswoggle broke it up. Swagger threw Hornswoggle into the barricade. That got heat. Rodriguez came out. Even though he got his ankle broken a second time a few days earlier, he was walking fine, even though he had a cast. He challenged Swagger to come down the aisle and try and break the other ankle. This served as a distraction as Del Rio attacked Swagger from behind and put him in the armbar. Colter broke it up. Rodriguez hit Colter with a crutch and threw the crutch to Del Rio. Swagger ran off. Good segment.

Renee Young made her debut. She was interviewing Sheamus & Orton & Show. Orton was acting way too much like a babyface. It didn’t fit his character at all. Seems like he’s turning, but with so many people’s names in the hat to turn, who knows what will happen. Sheamus said there were no problems between the three. But then Show and Sheamus started to argue and Orton was the peacemaker.

Sheamus & Orton & Show beat Rhodes & Sandow & Cesaro in 7:33 of the main event. Cesaro said, “Our opponents have nothing in common except that they are common.” Cesaro was yodeling, which is his new gimmick. Makes him seem like a prelim heel, which, admittedly, is the level he’s at right now but he seems to have the ability to be a whole lot more. JBL called Rhodes “Mark Spitz,” because of the mustache. That’s a 1972 Olympics reference. Finish saw Show throw Sandow into an RKO by Orton. Sheamus then nailed Rhodes with a brogue kick for the pin. The Shield came out. Orton & Sheamus & Show jumped into the stands after them. They were brawling in the stands until The Shield ran off.

Regarding Luke Harper (John Huber) and his weight, he blew out his knee while working in Japan some time back, had surgery, couldn’t do a lot of cardio, and that’s why he got so heavy. Huber’s background was as a hockey player. He got into WWE not because of his Dragon Gate USA stuff, but because Kevin Nash saw him on an indie show and Nash recommended him. According to one friend of his, he’s actually naturally skinny and keeping weight on in most cases was a struggle. WWE tried him out years ago and told him he needed to get thicker and more muscular.

Evan Bourne noted on Twitter that he’s healed a lot from all the foot problems from his car accident last year, but even though he worked his first match last week, he said he had a long way to go.

Kane did an article for Forbes and described his team with Bryan like this: “For me as Kane it’s the fact that, what I do with Daniel Bryan is a complete contrast to everything else I’ve done my entire career. The fact that you have, the rest of my career, the Kane character has been relatively dark. Every once in a while you’ll see something pop out, but for the most part, it’s been relatively dark and very serious, the destroyer, the monster. With Team Hell No, because of Daniel Bryan, I’m able to show a different side. It’s like Abbot and Costello, of course. I’m generally the straight guy, but you want to show a bit of what he does. By being the straight guy, it makes it even that much better. I would say that we’ve been able to do what not a whole lot of people have done. We can take completely contrasting things and accentuate the contrast of going to where the whole thing works, as opposed to the whole thing just falling apart.”

Delayed viewership numbers went way up a few weeks ago, even more than in proportion to the increase in ratings. For 2/25, the 558,000 homes watching Raw on a delay of more than one day, destroyed all old records. Only 85.4% of the viewers watched live or same day delayed, the lowest figure in Raw history. Since the rating was above average, that’s not a negative. That was the show with the Vince McMahon vs. Heyman fight leading to the HHH vs. Lesnar angle and the show where Cena vs. Punk for the right to wrestle Rock at Manis was the main event. On 3/4, it was 465,000 watching on a delay, meaning 88.0% live or same day delayed, which is defined as finishing by 3 a.m. For the 3/11 show, it was only 159,000 meaning 95.6% watched live which was the Bearer tribute show.

Bob Holly’s new book, “The Hardcore Truth,” from ECW Press, which I’m in the process of reading, told a story about the Michaels vs. Razor Ramon ladder match at WrestleMania X and how it was different from an insider perspective. While the match, if viewed by today’s eyes, would be very, very good, on the day the match took place, it was one of the greatest matches ever because of how innovative it was. Everyone in the business was talking about it like it was not just the greatest match in WWF history, but among the best matches ever, at least in the U.S. Holly noted the two were having a great match and tearing the house down and he was in the Gorilla position and heard them signal the ref that it’s time to go home. Michaels and Ramon (Scott Hall) ignored the referee’s instructions and kept going. Backstage, everyone was panicking and furious because they simply wouldn’t listen to instructions. As he was warming up, he heard the word, that because they went so long, a ten-man tag filler match Holly was in was pulled. He said he wasn’t personally mad because the Michaels vs. Ramon match in his opinion was one of the best in wrestling history, plus he knew the dumbest thing he could do in his position on the roster was to say anything. But he said Randy Savage was furious. As they came back, Savage was swearing at both of them, calling them every name in the book, saying they were selfish and how they had disrespected all the other wrestlers, particularly the ten guys in the match that was canceled. As far as the book goes, it’s a good read based on what I’ve read so far. He gives his opinions on a lot of stuff and while you may or may not agree with his take, I believe it’s his honest opinions, and let’s just say that with a lot of pro wrestling autobiographies, when I read them, that is not the first impression.

There was only one tour running this weekend, which is strange since they ran smaller buildings and you’d think if they loaded the show with most of the stars that they’d go for bigger arenas.

3/29 in Springfield, MA, drew yet another sellout, with 6,700 fans and $260,000. 3/30 in Atlantic City drew 7,700 and $320,000. 3/31 for an Easter Sunday show in White Plains drew 3,700, which is a little shy of a sellout.

Springfield opened with Kane & Bryan keeping the tag titles over Slater & Mahal, who had McIntyre in the corner. Kane pinned Slater after a choke slam. This was just a showcase for Kane & Bryan to do the act where they didn’t get along, argued after winning and hugged it out when it was over. Barrett kept the IC title in a three-way over R-Truth and Miz. After the match, The Shield hit the ring and laid out Miz and R-Truth. Del Rio retained the world title beating Cesaro via DQ when Swagger attacked Del Rio. Kingston made the save. This led to Kingston & Del Rio beating Cesaro & Swagger when Del Rio made Cesaro submit to the armbar. Kaitlyn pinned Snuka with a spear to keep the Divas title. Next was Ryback vs. Henry in an over the top rope challenge. For whatever reason, the house show booker (Michael Hayes) always protects Henry and he never gets pinned. He’ll either lose via DQ or in this case, he charged at Ryback, who ducked and flipped him over the top. There was a major incident years ago with Hayes and Henry where Hayes used the N word and got in a lot of trouble, including being stripped of his Vice President position, which he still hasn’t gotten back. We got reports the first two nights of the tour that this match didn’t click at all and needs a lot of work before Mania. Main event was Cena & Sheamus & Show over The Shield via DQ when Reigns used a chair. It finished with Cena doing the Attitude Adjustment on one, Sheamus the Brogue kick on one and Show the knockout punch on one. Cena was really over here and they acknowledged he went to Springfield College (where he was legitimately a first-team Division III All-American center, and it’s notable that as a lineman he was only 220 pounds at the time.

They did a different show in Atlantic City. This one opened with a Battle Royal with the winner to get a shot at Alberto Del Rio’s world title. To show the value of the world title, the names entered were Bryan, Kane, Kingston, Miz, Barrett, Slater, McIntyre, Mahal, R-Truth and Cesaro. In other words, Jericho, Fandango, Swagger (of all people), Show, Ryback, Henry, Cena, Orton, Sheamus and The Shield who were all on the card thought so much of the world title that they wouldn’t even enter a Battle Royal for an impromptu shot at it. It came down to Kane, Bryan and Barrett. Bryan tried to throw out Kane, who blocked him. Then Bryan started begging off to Kane and apologizing. Barrett just stood there while they did their Yes/No followed by their hug it out shtick. When they hugged and everything was cool, it was Kane who double-crossed Bryan and threw him out. As the crowd popped for that, Barrett from behind threw Kane out to win. That was the only appearance for Kane and Bryan on the show. Kaitlyn pinned Snuka with a spear after a missed superfly splash in the Divas title match. Cesaro pinned R-Truth to keep the U.S. title with the Neutralizer. In a comedy spot, R-Truth came out doing his old entrance with “What’s up.” Cesaro said rapping was pathetic and put over yodeling, which he then did. Well, that’s different. After the match, The Shield destroyed R-Truth with the triple power bomb. Usually they do that with the face going over but you couldn’t very well do that with a U.S. title match and based on the lineup there was no other option for that spot except doing it to Show, which they figured Truth is a much better second match victim. Del Rio beat Barrett via DQ when Swagger interfered in a short match that was just there. Miz ran in for the save, then interestingly, they sent Jericho out to give the faces the 3-on-2 because they wanted to save the big entrance for Fandango. Fandango started dancing and the crowd reaction was not what they wanted. People were laughing and it killed the brawl in the ring. Vickie Guerrero then announced Del Rio & Jericho & Miz vs. Barrett & Swagger & Fandango. Fandango did a ton of stalling before locking up. He also would do a move and then dance. But when he did wrestle, he did looked good in hanging with name guys. The finish saw Del Rio use the armbar on Barrett. Show beat Slater & McIntyre & Mahal in a quick handicap match. Show knocked one out and choke slammed the other two for a simultaneous pin. Ryback beat Henry in the over the top rope challenge. This didn’t get over except for Ryback’s “Feed me more” cheerleading that always works. Main event was Cena & Sheamus & Orton over The Shield via DQ when Rollins hit Cena with a chair. Usual post match with the Attitude Adjustment, Brogue kick and RKO triple post match ending.

The White Plains show was the same as Atlantic City with one exception, which was Kingston working with Cesaro instead of R-Truth, with Cesaro winning with the Neutralizer. Kingston also took R-Truth’s spot in getting beaten down after the match by The Shield. R-Truth was on the card, but only working the Battle Royal. Heyman did his interview pushing that Punk would end the streak of Undertaker. He turned heel by saying the fans had no manners and that’s why they were doing Mania in New Jersey, and then talked about how HHH was going to headline the 2014 Hall of Fame after Lesnar retires him Sunday. Fandango got a lot better reaction here than the night before. The Jericho-Fandango interaction was very good and that could be the sleeper match at Mania if they are given time.

(Wrestling Observer Newsletter)