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Writing the Book: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13

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Welcome to “Writing the Book.” This is where I attempt to book entire wrestling pay-per-views in an interesting yet logical matter. This week we have NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13!

Wrestle Kingdom might just be my favorite event of the year. The guaranteed match quality, production, and storytelling are just what the average wrestling fan desires. Feuds culminate on the grand stage of the Tokyo Dome and new rivalries are born the very next day at New Year’s Dash.

The very recent announcement of All Elite Wrestling essentially decided several matches for me. The entirety of The Elite is competing on Friday. That would mean January 4th and 5th could be the last time we see Cody, The Young Bucks, Hangman Page, and Marty Scurll compete in a New Japan Pro Wrestling ring for quite some time.

Pre-Show

Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe & Toru Yano) and Ryusuke Taguchi v. Yuji Nagata, David Finlay and Jeff Cobb v. Hirooki Goto, Beretta, and Chuckie T v. Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer, and Davey Boy Smith Jr. v. Hangman Page, Yujiro Takahashi, and Marty Scurll – #1 Contender Gauntlet Match to determine challengers for NEVER Openweight 6-man Titles

Winners: Suzuki, Archer, & Smith Jr.

The Suzuki-gun trio are the most seasoned guys in this crop. The Most Violent Players just reunited, Beretta and Chuckie are having problems, and Page and Scurll are likely on the way out. This one feels like a no-brainer. They’re the most complete team in terms of size, strength, chemistry, and credibility. Also, a Suzuki-gun trio has never held the Openweight tag belts which is pretty ridiculous. Let’s fix that.

Main Card

Kota Ibushi (c) v. Will Ospreay – NEVER Openweight Championship

Winner: Kota Ibushi

I want him to hold the belt for a little while. This is Ibushi’s first ever singles championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling which is even harder to believe than the stat I mentioned in the previous match.

Ospreay’s injury is still fairly recent so I’d like him to rest a little after WK then go back to rattling off a few more great feuds in the Junior division during the Spring. After the insanity that is sure to ensue here, he will have reserved himself a spot in the Openweight scene from here on out.

Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado (c) v. Roppongi 3K (Sho & Yoh) v. BUSHI and Shingo Takagi – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships 

Winners: Roppongi 3K

I struggled with this one for a little bit. I could make a case for awarding each team with a big win. The tiebreaker was the fact that I’m not booking CHAOS to have a particularly special night (oops, spoilers) so I needed to give this one to them. It helps that R3K are one of most talented teams in the world.

Tomohiro Ishii (c) v. Zack Sabre Jr. – British Heavyweight Championship

Winner: Zack Sabre Jr.

Remember how I said CHAOS isn’t going to have a good night? That starts here. Well, it actually started back on the pre-show. Ishii has held the belt twice since ZSJ last held it so now feels like the right time to get it back. Plus, I have other plans for Ishii to start the new year.

For the finish of the match, I want Zack to win by referee stoppage rather than submission. It’ll keep Ishii looking strong and Zack like a true sadist. Stable-leader, Minoru Suzuki won the Intercontinental Championship from Tanahashi a year ago the same way. That’ll be my dash of storytelling sprinkled onto the match.

Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) v. EVIL and SANADA v. The Young Bucks -IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship

Winners: G.O.D.

I’m trying to make Bullet Club look strong throughout this event. They were the sole focus of multiple storylines in 2018 and I have even more ideas for them going forward. This will likely be The Bucks’ last NJPW appearance for awhile. I’d have them swoop in when victory seems near for LIJ. That will give Evil and Sanada a gripe to get their proper tag title opportunity in the near future.

Cody (c) v. Juice Robinson – IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship

Winner: Juice

If Cody is going to run All Elite Wrestling, he can’t be holding a belt for one of the other top promotions in the world.

KUSHIDA (c) v. Taiji Ishimori – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

Winner: Ishimori

My run of Bullet Club wins continues. Taiji Ishimori is a young talent with massive potential that debuted in the earlier part of last year. After Yujiro, Scurll, and Chase Owens split off into The Elite he became the sole junior of the Bullet Club. He already has a classic with Hiromu Takahashi in his first year so let’s see what he can do with a singles title run. Ishimori holding it until Hiromu’s return would be ideal.

Kazuchika Okada v. Jay White

Winner: Jay White

For weeks I had Okada booked as the clear winner. But something about it just didn’t sit right with me. Jay has been booked as this young new leader of the Bullet Club. His potential climbs every time he’s on screen. Since Jay has consistently gotten the better of Okada, I felt more justified in giving Okada the win. But now, I just can’t do it.

Giving Okada the win would halt all the momentum NJPW has been trying to build for White. It would be similar to John Cena toppling The Nexus. Wade Barrett never got back to the top of the mountain. Okada is already there and can’t be pushed off. However, I want Bullet Club to meddle in this match as much as possible. Give Jay even more heat and Okada a reason to lose.

Chris Jericho (c) v. Tetsuya Naito – IWGP Intercontinental Championship

Winner: Tetsuya Naito

As much as I love Chris Jericho, he should have never won the IC Title. It’s the second biggest prize in the company and has been nonexistent on NJPW programming. Naito will do much more with it.

Kenny Omega (c) v. Hiroshi Tanahashi – IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Winner: Tanahashi

This was another last-second flip-flop on my part. Omega was booked as my winner for awhile until I sat down in front of the card. The main focus of this match is supposed to be the clash of ideologies. Tanahashi is the tried and true hero of New Japan whose style has provided him repeated and sustained success. Kenny Omega is a gaijin who is 7 months into his first reign as heavyweight champion. Omega made comments in the past about the Japanese roster being complacent and not working as hard as the outsiders. Tanahashi took exception to this, of course. After a grueling G1 Climax, Tanahashi emerged as the winner after defeating Kenny’s golden lover.

January 4th is where Tanahashi takes back his kingdom. Kenny Omega’s ultimate downfall in the match will be his reckless style and cockiness. Although the two have been wrestling for an equal amount of time, Tanahashi is still seven years Omega’s elder. Omega will dictate the pace of the match and hold the upper hand for most of it. The problem is that Tanahashi will continue to reverse and kick out of everything Omega throws at him. That will eventually lead to Kenny attempting more and more dangerous moves (Phoenix Splash, dives to the outside, missed V-Triggers onto a hard surface, etc.). Omega’s moves will eventually miss multiple times in a row which will lead to injuries, and then defeat.

Main Stories Going Forward

Wrestle Kingdom is traditionally followed by New Year’s Dash the following night. That is where the seeds for the next feuds are planted. Now that Tanahashi is champion, there will be an unbearable nuisance named Jay White as confident as ever. New Year’s Dash will close with The Bullet Club attacking Tanahashi and Jay White declaring himself as the next challenger for the heavyweight belt. Remember that Jay White returned to NJPW last year specifically to challenge Tanahashi. Now he has a year of growth behind him.

After the Bullet Club attack, the Golden Lovers will come in to make the save. This sets up a Tanahashi/Golden Lovers vs. Bullet Club feud. Omega wants to do the right thing but wants to preserve Tanahashi for their rematch at the same time. Omega also hasn’t forgotten that Jay White took his US Title at the start of 2018.

That leaves Okada and CHAOS in a bit of a funk. In the middle of New Year’s Dash, the entirety of CHAOS will meet with Okada in the ring and have a discussion. They’ll talk about his decline in performance after he lost his championship. He started playing with balloons then continued to lose to Jay White and co. That’s when they decide to undergo trials for a new leader of the Chaos Faction.

The trials will allow each member of Chaos to have a singles match with Okada in order to determine the new leader of the stable. Chuckie T, Beretta, Yano, Ospreay, Ishii, then Goto. It will be a story that lasts for several months but will result in Okada toppling each member. By the end, Chaos will be more unified with the new Rainmaker ready to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once again.

Next time on Writing the Book: I attempt to book both Royal Rumble matches!


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News From Cook’s Corner 9.20.21: The Column From Hell

Plane rides aren’t the only thing on the docket! Cook’s News corner is definitely unique this week!

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Hi, hello & welcome to News From Cook’s Corner! I’m Steve Cook, and it’s been a rather eventful week in the world of wrestling. Big E became WWE Champion on Monday night. The new NXT debuted Tuesday night & had a pretty eventful outing that got their best rating in quite some time. About 85 million things happened on Dynamite, as is typically the case. There are no shortage of current wrestling events to talk about here.

So of course we’re talking about the Plane Ride From Hell instead of all that stuff.

This might be a first. I don’t think previous Dark Side of the Ring episodes led to people getting punished at their workplace. We’ve had some people come off poorly on that show, but nothing led to anybody getting any sort of punishment other than being yelled at on the Internet. Which, as somebody that’s been yelled at on the Internet pretty often, I can say isn’t the biggest deal. Annoying, sure, but you move on.

One had a feeling that a re-visit of the Plane Ride From Hell could lead to issues for some people. You know how it is…we tend to forget things. Those of us around back then heard most of the steamy details. Since it was the early to mid-2000s, most of us didn’t think too much about it. We laughed at Michael Hayes getting his ponytail cut off. Curt Hennig & Brock Lesnar getting into a fight seemed amusing. Nobody was surprised to read about Scott Hall falling off the wagon. We laughed at Dustin Rhodes singing to his ex-wife…and yep, we laughed at Ric Flair doing his signature robe spot. As detailed in the documentary, Ric had done the “naked under the robe” thing on numerous occasions. It was part of what made Ric Flair Ric Flair. Wrestlers & wrestling writers told us this, so we believed them.

Now, this is the part where I have to plead ignorance, which annoys those wishing to excuse Ric’s behavior by telling us that everybody already knew this stuff, and we’re just getting hot & bothered now because it’s 2021. I didn’t really follow up on the story when the lawsuit went down, didn’t look at the legal documents or anything like that. I was just a 411 wrestling writer with a weekly “news report” where I took the piss out of everything. So, I had no idea that Ric Flair did anything on that flight other than the robe stuff, which is pretty gross in its own right because who needs to see that?

As for the the point that peoples’ reactions to this type of stuff have changed in the nearly two decades since this all happened…well, duh? Some people do evolve. When the Plane Ride From Hell happened on May 5, 2002, I was a senior in high school. I was no different from most high school boys, a sex-crazed idiot that didn’t know anything about anything when it came to sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. As most of my 411 columns from the 2000s will show, that phase lasted awhile. As I got older & learned things I should have learned a long time ago but didn’t for a myriad of reasons, my viewpoints have changed. Some people don’t understand how it’s possible to change your mind on something over the course of twenty years, as we see in politics. They keep their head in the sand & believe the same things they believed before they had any type of life experience, which must be nice.

Just because I say Ric Flair is the greatest wrestler of all time doesn’t mean he was the greatest person to ever lace the boots. Two different things.

For those of you that didn’t see the broadcast, I recommend you do so since I won’t be able to paint the full picture here. We’ll run down some of the major points here.

-Tommy Dreamer has been suspended from his position with Impact Wrestling, where he serves on the creative team & wrestles fairly often on television. Dude got a title match on his 50th birthday not that long ago, which was made a big deal of because everybody in the business loves Tommy Dreamer. At least they did until he went on this program and made an ass of himself. Dreamer somehow managed to make himself come off worse than the actual subjects of the show, which is fairly impressive.

I’ve seen some people upset over Dreamer being punished because it’s not like he was one of the people forcing themselves on the flight attendants or anything like that. Thing is, when you’re in a position of authority, as Dreamer is with his role on creative and as a veteran leader of the locker room wherever he goes, people have higher expectations for you. When you go on national television blaming sexual assault victims for what happened & bemoan the fact your ugly hairstyle probably offends people since everybody gets offended these days, your reputation is going to take a hit. Some people in Tommy Dreamer’s locker rooms aren’t going to look at him the same way now. That lessens his value as a “locker room leader” greatly.

Dreamer did the social media apology thing that everybody does now. I figure he’ll be back in Impact eventually & will say the right things to rehab his image with most of his wrestling peers. It’ll take some time though. It’s interesting that Dreamer will probably get the biggest punishment out of anybody involved here…but at the same time, at least the people that actually did the acts can claim that they’re different people now. Scott Hall & Dustin Runnels have talked openly about their past and the fact they’ve changed for the better without substances controlling them. As far as we know, they have. They also got punished at the time, Hall being fired & Runnels getting fined.

Dreamer doesn’t have that as an excuse. He’s just an idiot who wishes he could go back to the ECW Holiday Inn.

-Ric Flair’s future could be a little murky. CarShield has “paused” their national commercials featuring him for the time being. More importantly, one has to wonder how this affects his future plans within pro wrestling. Everybody figured he would end up in AEW pretty soon, as he’s friends with Tony Khan, his son in law needs a manager, and a good percentage of his old friends already work there.

The question will be if Tony thinks it’s worth the potential backlash that could happen if Flair makes an appearance. It was already kind of debatable if a Ric Flair in his early 70s would add a ton to AEW’s presentation. Add in the current heat on his name, and AEW’s probably best served to wait until this thing dies down. One has to think that WWE isn’t too sad to have Ric off the payroll at the moment.

Also of note: Flair recently said on Renee Paquette’s podcast that if this program tries to paint him in a bad light, he’s going to take everybody down with him. So be on the lookout for that. Could be an interesting week.

-Brock Lesnar showed Terri Runnels his penis. Jim Ross apparently heard of multiple incidents involving Brock Lesnar’s penis appearing at inappropriate times. This one’s flying under the radar mostly because…well, do you want to get Brock mad at you? I wouldn’t mention it myself if I had a larger audience.

-Scott Hall has no recollection of any of this. Not surprising.

-One possible issue for Dark Side: Was Vince McMahon on this flight? Multiple people on the show say he was, but reporting from the time period suggests that Vince did not make the Europe trip. Vince not being there would explain why certain members of the talent roster felt more emboldened to do dumb things. Or at least dumber than usual, since Vince was on a number of other flights where things got hairy. One untruth on a documentary is enough for many to cast aspersions on everything else on the program. The producer stated on Jim Cornette’s podcast that everybody they talked to said Vince was on the plane.

-Another possible issue for Dark Side: Getting people to go on their show in the future! Jeez, if I was a wrestler and saw how poorly most of these people on this show came off, the last thing I’d want to do is go on it myself.

Definitely one of the most interesting Dark Sides yet, with the most fallout from a given episode. Next week’s will feature the story of Chris Kanyon, and there’s a good chance that some people will look bad there too. I think most of them are retired, but there may be somebody I’m forgetting!

NXT Contract Update

Contract updates have become a weekly feature of Internet reporting, as it seems like our favorite Internet reporters have a better idea of when these things come up than WWE does. Wild, isn’t it? All I can say about it is that Fightful must have quite the mole in that front office.

Pete Dunne re-signed with WWE for three years. It’s fair to wonder what Dunne’s ceiling is in WWE. He’s a talented wrestler, but is much smaller than the athletes WWE tends to feature, and doesn’t seem to have the charisma to make up for it. It’s still the right move for Dunne, as when you’re a foreign talent wrestling in America, it makes sense to stick with your current company as long as possible. Otherwise, you’ll get sent home. If Dunne wants to stay in America, staying with WWE is the easiest way to do that.

Johnny Gargano’s contract is set to expire in early December. I could see keeping him around as a veteran to work with the young guys that WWE sees potential in, but don’t be surprised if Dexter Lumis carrying an axe around with him leads to something. Not that WWE does murder.

Yang Time?

Remember Andrew Yang? Yeah, the guy that ran for President in 2020, then later promised to go after WWE for their third party policy that kept their “independent contractors” from using certain sites for profit. He went off to do other things for a minute, including a run for Mayor of New York City that went nowhere. Now he’s talking about wrestling again, which is good because there were a ton of people that got fired during this pandemic that might have used some help. Fortunately, Andrew Yang is with us now!

Yang says that early returns are positive. He also used the phrase “bolieve”, so we can only hope that Bo Dallas becomes the star witness in whatever happens here. I don’t think we’ll get much, especially since it involves a politician.

Welp, that’s all we have time for tonight. We’ve got a big week coming up though, with the Week 3 NFL Picks (actually done on time this week!) and some Extreme Rules Gambling Picks! Yep, that show’s next Sunday! Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


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Rob: End the Brand Split?

Rob was inspired by some of the current IWC clamoring for an end to the brand split. How does he feel about that rhetoric?

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Some weird stuff happened on Twitter after SmackDown went off the air this past Friday.  A match was announced for Monday Night RAW this week featuring the Bloodline vs The New Day, and with it came two bizarre groups of tweets.  One was accusing WWE of hotshotting a pay per view worthy match out ratings fears (which is so dumb that I’m not going to even bother discussing it) and the other was a bunch of calls to end the brand split, which I find to be equally dumb but more of a worthy discussion topic.

Now before I go any further let me just say this:  the brand split is not ending.

As long as WWE is getting a billion dollars from both Fox and NBC they are going to book two shows with two separate rosters.  The only way the brand split ends is if one of the two shows gets cancelled and can’t find a new home.  But as long as they are getting paid big money for each show then there are going to be two shows.  And those shows are going to have separate rosters, separate creative, etc.  But just for the sake of playing along, what exactly would it look like if they ended the brand split?  Here are some possibilities:

Double Duty

I looked at four weeks of Raw and SmackDown from  January of 2016, before the brand split happened, and what I found was that on average nine people would work both shows in one week.  But in addition to that, on average two people worked four shows over a two week period, eight would work three out of four shows over two weeks, and twelve would work two shows over a two week period. And finally one person worked seven out eight possible shows over the four weeks while four more did six out of seven over that time.  And that’s not counting people who were at ringside for a tag team partner or stablemate.  There’s no reason to think that would be different this time around which means that your top men and women would be working two shows lots of weeks while the rest of the roster filled in the gaps.  And since the roster usage would revert to how it was that would mean………

More releases

Please understand that were the brand split to end there would be no need for the roster to remain at it’s current size.  The usage rate of talent that existed before just does not require as many people to make it work.  And remember a no brand split world is one where they are getting less TV money, which means less to pay people, which means some people will have to go.  And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the only people who will get released are the ones you think aren’t good enough to keep.  There will be another Braun Strowman or Aleister Black in that group.  And unlike today’s landscape there will likely be fewer places for them to work because a world in which the WWE has to downsize for financial reasons is one where some of the existing companies have already gone under or have already downsized.

More wear and tear

Going back to my first point; a no brand split world is one where people are working more dates.  The top third of the roster would be working anywhere from four to seven times a month on TV; by contrast this year only Matt Riddle is working at that kind of pace.  A full brand split schedule is around 150 to 160 matches a years counting TV, pay per views and house shows.  By contrast pre-brand split Roman Reigns had 204 matches in 2013 and 213 matches in 2015.  Those 50 extra matches along with the travel that accompanies them make for a shorter career for everyone who has to do them.  They also lead to more injuries – remember WrestleMania 32 where John Cena, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, and Cesaro were all out with injuries and the entire main event angle had to be rebooked?  Anybody want a redo of that?  I didn’t think so.

A harder glass ceiling

If you think it’s hard to move up now, then a no brand split world would be worse.  The last full year with no brand split, 2015, saw the pay per view main event slots split among nine people and the World title matches split among ten people.  By contrast in 2021 to date the main events have been split between 13 men and the World/Universal Title matches have been split between 16 men, with a 17th on the way in Finn Balor. In the post unification, pre brand split world 13 guys by my count were in World title matches across just over two years.

And then there’s the women’s side.  In 2015 the Diva’s title matches were split between four women.  In 2021 the Raw and SmackDown’s women’s title matches were split amongst nine soon to be ten with Alexa Bliss challenging at Extreme Rules.  Ending the brand split likely would mean unifying the top men’s and women’s singles titles, which would in turn would mean less room in the title picture afterwards and ultimately fewer roster spots.  Why?  Because you wouldn’t need as many.  Look at the current match distribution across Raw and SmackDown; that’s not likely to change with no brand split so that begs the question of whether you need 10 plus women for each show (short answer: you don’t).  Which means more releases, and again you can’t assume that it will just be people you’re not interested in seeing.

The same logic goes for tag teams, by the way.  One title means fewer title matches which means fewer teams needed which means more releases.

What’s it all mean?

To be honest when I hear ‘End the Brand Split’, I can’t think of anything that would solve.  Do you want bigger matchups more often?  A look back at the past would shoot that down real fast.  You would still get the same kind of stalling moves in the booking so as not to burn big matches out too fast.  Fewer rematches?  Not going to happen with the smaller roster that would result.  More opportunities?  Again, with a smaller roster how exactly would that happen?  A smaller roster is more likely to mean a double down on the people in the top tier not a more open door to reach it.  If the problem you have is that you only want to watch the bigger guns go at it and not be bothered with what you consider to be filler matches then I suggest you watch Main Event to get a quick recap or watch the Hulu versions of the shows on fast forward or just watch the pay per views.  But wishing to end the brand split is some short sighted thinking because for all intents and purposes you’re asking for some bad times to come through to necessitate it.  There is no scenario in which business is going well AND they end brand split just because.  So think about what you really want and then try to adjust your viewing habits accordingly.

I’ll end with this.  The brand split exists because the WWE is being paid to provide enough live TV content to warrant it.  Until that is no longer the case then it’s going to stay, and a world where that’s no longer case is one that is not as good for anyone actually working there.  So be careful what you wish for.  And that’s all I got on that.  Until next time….


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