In the WWEís new economic direction, this month was the most important since WrestleMania, because itís when about 495,000 or so of the first batch of network customers subscriptions expired.
The idea of SummerSlam with the one-sided Brock Lesnar title win over John Cena was to build to something more important. Night of Champions seemingly had to be a big PPV, because if a lot of people didnít renew, it would be a short-term disaster. And if that was the case, and the numbers donít show considerable overseas growth and maintenance of the U.S. numbers, the stock price will take a hit coming November. Itís impossible to tell how things are going past that the Canadian numbers for a very different version of the product got off to a big start.
Another key aspect in the network business is that everyone involved in this venture and similar venture has had issues with credit card rejections. Iím told that not just with WWE, but with everyone, the amount of credit card cancellations and failures on month-to-month billing is so much farther beyond budgetary expectations that it shocked people. That is probably a big part of the huge numbers of early cancellations.
As far as Night of Champions, on 9/21 in Nashville, being a must-see show, with all the television shot, this showís success is built entirely on the main event. The idea of Cena taking a one-sided beating, coming back with a changed mentality, and going for revenge all made sense. The problem is he was good as new a week later, and while he did change in the ring in one match, it was forgotten after the match. As the match approaches, it feels more like just another Cena title match, just with a more appealing than usual champion heís chasing. As PPVs go, without the big name of the show, or the great build, it feels a little above average but far from the canít miss that should have been the goal.
And as for the rest of the show, it will probably provide an entertaining show because WWE hits more than it misses on the big stage, but itís just a usual show.
The result of Cena vs. Lesnar is important, because it probably determines the WrestleMania direction. Lesnar retaining should all but guarantee Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, providing they donít get cold feet on that direction. Cena winning should still lead to the ascension of Reigns, but with a different dynamic, and probably wind up with Seth Rollins as champion at some point. It would free Lesnar for a match that could be as important, or more, than the title match, whether it would be with Undertaker, Rock or even a Steve Austin, since he feels like the best opponent for any of the three should they work the show. There are no special stipulations, or better than usual builds underneath. If anything, the go-home Raw didnít help any of the matches except the main event, and perhaps Mark Henry vs. Rusev. Reigns vs. Seth Rollins was hurt by having a match on television that the crowd really didnít get much into, and having Reigns win clean. It felt like there was no longer a reason for this match other than itís a PPV and both donít have another opponent. Dean Ambrose is expected to return here, or at TV the next night. Randy Orton vs. Chris Jericho is Jerichoís farewell for now.
As far as the title matches go, Sheamus vs. Cesaro for the U.S. title saw challenger Cesaro lose in a trios match on TV on the go-home show, which only makes sense if Cesaro is winning here. Dolph Ziggler vs. Miz for the IC title is a comedy feud, and comedy is fine in undercard. R-Truth, as R-Ziggler, and Damien Sandow, as Damien Mizdow, should both be at ringside interfering. The Usos vs. Goldust & Stardust for the TV title is just a tag title match with nothing special to it. And the Divas title, with Paige vs. Nikki Bella vs. A.J. Lee, should somehow have Brie Bella involved in some form given they are going hard with her program with Nikki.
They also announced a one-hour pregame show that will feature Christian doing a Peep Show interviewing Jericho.
The key focus of this show should be to have one wild match, whether it be Cena vs. Lesnar, or Rollins vs. Ambrose, or perhaps Reigns vs. Orton, set up for a Hell in a Cell, which is the gimmick for the follow-up show on 10/26 in Dallas.
The third NXT special on the WWE Network, on 9/11, was not nearly at the level of the previous two, until a blow-away main event where Adrian Neville retained his title over Sami Zayn, Tyson Kidd and Tyler Breeze.
The finish seemed to set up a Neville vs. Zayn singles program over the title, since Zayn was portrayed as the sympathetic favorite, who had the title won with a running kick to Kidd, but Neville pulled out the referee. Neville superkicked Zayn as he went to argue with him, and stole the pin with the red arrow on Kidd in a fantastic match where all four men were given the opportunity to shine and nearly win.
The rest wasnít anything special, but they had an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 400 fans at Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL. One of the big advantages of a small setting is the crowd is closer to the action and more into it. The disadvantage is that to make money on the live gate, you need a bigger building. When that isnít a concern, and itís not about competition any longer, the studio type set-up has its advantages as shown here. The first hour of this show would have been a dreadful Raw, but in a small building, it was fine to watch.
The show, which also aired live on Japanese television, featured the introduction of KENTA, billed by NXT General Manager William Regal as the biggest international signing in the history of WWE. He announced his new name as Hideo Itami, spoke some English and some Japanese, and said that his goal was to win the NXT title. Thatís kind of like if Alberto Del Rio did an interview on AAA TV and said his goal was to win the Fusion title, or if C.M. Punk were to sign with New Japan and say his goal was to win the Never title. He did an angle cleaning house on The Ascension, including throwing some Misawa elbows to buzz the people back in Japan.
The quarterly specials continue to expose the brand and some of the talent in a live setting and with more fanfare than the weekly television show. They are now selling merchandise for the key characters. Paul Levesque talked about the idea of creating NXT as a brand, with the idea of touring with it, and tried to compare it with ECW in the 90s, which he categorized as a feeder system to WCW and WWF of that era. Itís not exactly a perfect analogy. For NXT to be able to make it as a touring brand, it would need television in the U.S., because even in its home base, the non-TV tapings usually do between 100 and 200 fans, and itís still mostly a family and friends type deal. Flying them for shows or tours wouldnít make sense economically, and having them do long drives, or flights, would hurt because the primary goal is training them in ring technique, in getting a body, in delivering promos and learning psychology, and a flight for a destination tour out of, or a 13 hour drive for a loop would mean losing two days of training. Plus, WWE has never really been keen on producing a lot of money losing live events past the low-cost events NXT does in small Florida buildings.
Steve Guerreri is the current lead writer for the television show, having replaced Ryan Ward.
Currently, the plan is to do the next two-hour major show in December with a Thursday big show and Friday taping, but they are considering two different weeks.
Next was the KENTA introduction. He gave his new name. He spoke in both English and Japanese. The Ascension came out and they were mad because they had just lost the tag titles. They threw him out of the ring like it was nothing and demanded a title shot right there. But no, this guy is no geek, he came in, kicked both guys out of the ring, and when they tried to attack him a second time, he dropkicked both guys, one foot on each guy, off the apron and they bailed. Fans were chanting ďKENTAĒ at him. I guess they didnít listen to his interview. His explanation of Hideo Itami is that he was trying to honor his hero. I guess Mitsuharu Kobashi was taken. Actually, Hideo is for Hideo Nomo. Itami is from the Akatsuki leader from Naruto Manga.
6. Adrian Neville retained the NXT title in a four-way over Sami Zayn, Tyler Breeze and Tyson Kidd in 24:11. Super main event. ****1/2
The key NXT talent, Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, The Ascension and Tyler Breeze, are all being booked regularly at house shows as well as for television going forward, although none were used either live or in dark matches at Raw because it was the go-home show for the PPV and none were booked on the PPV.
Smackdown on 9/12 did a 1.95 rating and 2.82 million viewers (1.52 viewers per home). Even though the rating was down from the 2.02 last week, it had more viewers per home than the show usually does, and it was the most watched episode of Smackdown in two months. It was also the highest rated show on cable (so for once when they claimed that on Raw, it was actually accurate), beating Girl Meets World at No. 2, which did 2.38 million viewers. Besides Bellator, the only major sports competition was College Football on ESPN that did 1.29 million viewers.
Raw on 9/15 did 3.82 million viewers, going against a strong football game (Philadelphia Eagles vs. Indianapolis Colts doing 14.89 million viewers) and the season premiere of Dancing With The Stars (13.64 million viewers). It was the lowest audience for the show since 5/26, but thatís the reality of football season.
The most notable thing was the huge third hour drop. The key segment of the show, the John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar confrontation, was booked at the start of the third hour, timed to go against halftime of the football game. The problem is, when it was over, there was nothing to follow it. After all that time, the first singles match with Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins didnít draw well, and closing the show with the Mark Henry vs. Rusev angle was a heavily questioned move.
Hour one did 3.90 million viewers, hour two did 3.95 million viewers and hour three did 3.63 million viewers.
Total Divas on 9/14 did 975,000 viewers, down from 1.23 million for the season opener. The big competition was the Bears-49ers game that did 22.15 million viewers, and Miss America, which did 7.07 million, but skewed heavily female which is the same as Total Divas. It was the fifth lowest audience the show has done, but most of the ones that did worse were on PPV nights.
There was a lot of confusion during the week from a story by TheWrap.com that WWE was in negotiations to sell its complete 150,000 hour videotape library to Warner Brothers. Those close to the situation have told us the story was untrue, but another source with close knowledge of the situation said that it was a deal between Warner Brothers and Cinedigm for the home video distribution rights to the library, and talks are very serious between the sides. Cinedigm has been very negative about its relationship with WWE so them deciding to unload was not a surprise, because they believe the network decision has badly hurt their DVD and Blu Ray business. During their earnings call last month, Cinedigm COO Adam Mizel, said: "On the WWE renewal, that business over the last 24 months has declined significantly as they have shifted their business model accordingly. And so when we look at the expected revenues going forward and the expected return rates that go with that and ultimately the margin we'll earn and the cost in servicing that business, we made a proposal to them that we thought was profitable and made sense for us and should make sense for them. They didn't want to do that. They were looking for a deal that I think would have relied on us, at us losing money and we are not in the business of servicing customers while we lose money." So they wanted out. The deal has not been announced but one person with close knowledge of the talks said that it is close and more than likely to happen.
Flair, who was scheduled to return at TV this past week, appear at NXT Takeover, as well as make an appearance in some form at the Night of Champions PPV, underwent at least two surgeries this past week. Details have been kept under wraps. Jim Ross reported Flair had appendicitis, and surgery for both that and a hernia. The WWE web site wrote that Flair had underwent successful surgery and would miss Smackdown on 9/16 (which is the only show he had been publicly advertised for). Those at WWE said they expected Flair back on television soon.
WWE has signed a five-year deal with Ten Sports in India, covering the years 2015 through the end of 2019. The station will broadcast Raw, Smackdown, Main Event, NXT and PPVs. Whatís notable is that the NXT, Main Event and PPVs are the main products of the WWE Network. There will also be a new one hour version of Raw customized for India. The product will also air in multiple languages. WWE has also promised to bring a tour to India in 2015. Itís been years since they went to India, but the tour went so badly that I know people who after the tour told me that they would quit the company rather than go on another tour there, and thatís before they got their payoffs for the tour which were minuscule. Several of the guys, most
WWE has now deleted all C.M. Punk merchandise from its WWE Shop web site, to the point that if you look for it, you get the impression that C.M. Punk never existed.
Sting merchandise is being sold at WWE house shows. Sting has a merchandise contract with WWE and most expect him at WrestleMania for what could be his one and only WWE in-ring appearance this coming year.
Regarding Austin at Mania, some people have taken the fact heís talking about training hard right now as a sign heís getting ready. The last we heard is that itís not out of the question for this year, but it comes down to the right creative and the right money.
I saw the Monday Night War episode on Bret Hart that aired on 9/16 just because I wanted to see how the thing was portrayed. The funny thing is the real story is far more interesting than the version portrayed. They wanted to portray it simply as Bret Hart was leaving and refused to do the job on the way out, and Vince did what he had to do. In time, that simplistic version has taken over as the reality, since itís easy to digest and paints McMahon as completely in the right. Iíd seen other episodes and as someone who lived through it and through the entire evolution of the business, the entire narrative of evil Ted vs. undermanned but smarter Vince was annoying just because in a free enterprise world, evil Ted did nothing Vince didnít do, and really did far less in the 80s. Plus, the overemphasis on Ted Turner, who may have spent five minutes a year thinking about the wrestling business, and underplaying of Eric Bischoff has, if anything, gotten even worse over time. If Turner really wanted to beat Vince McMahon as bad as they said, he could have done so in 1989 by simply raiding every top star Vince had when their deals were up. In reality, WCW was put on a small budget and told to make money. Every idea, from going live in prime time, or late going head-to-head, were things Jim Herd and Bill Watts wanted to do and were turned down. Their jobs were to balance the budget, and keep in mind, this was a budget where zero revenue was listed for television rights fees, which meant they had to break even on house shows, merch and PPV alone. Watts even came close to pulling it off, but alienated the talent in doing so with all the budget slashing. If they were given in the budget television rights fees of even $8 million a year, Herd would have run a profitable company and Watts would have had an even more profitable company. Bischoff was given an open checkbook, and the green light to really have a chance to win and all the weapons to do so. He failed because he presented a product that turned off much of his audience, and because he had no understanding that in wrestling, the present doesnít last forever and playing a pat hand for too long is death. Or at least was in the old business, which didnít have the guaranteed cushion on television money. Today, the old rules donít apply. In addition, every episode has so much repeated material. I can see liking it if you didnít live through it and were willing to accept a babyface vs. heel portrait of a wrestling war instead of the reality where both sides were trying to cut the othersí throats constantly and one side eventually collapsed because they didnít prepare for any future and lost complete touch with their fan base, while the other was in touch with theirs. They attempted to not bury Hart personally, because heís one of the legends they bring out when needed. But they left out all the details that would give one a perspective of what really happened. They talked about the Michaelsí knee injury and told the story that Hart thought Michaels created the fake knee injury to avoid dropping the title to him. In actuality, Michaels was booked to lose to Sycho Sid on a live TV special in Lowell, MA (which was also the beginning of the Dwayne Johnson backlash when they had him beat HHH for the IC title less than three months after his debut and it was way early and the fans turned on him after being completely behind him as the new young star up to that point), not Hart. He showed up that day, and claimed a career ending knee injury and gave the lost my smile promo and handed Vince the belt and refused to even lose in his ďlast career match.Ē Of course, he was back two months later, without having surgery, and as good as ever. What he also missed was WrestleMania, where he was going to lose to Hart, but the title match by that point was Undertaker beating Sid. Ratings were down and Vince at the time blamed it on pushing smaller guys, so he went with the big guys in the title match, and Mania that year did 237,000 buys. Of course, it also started the turnaround since the Hart vs. Austin I Quit match that turned Austin babyface was on that show. In the discussion of Montreal, not one talking head was balanced. They were all the idea that Hart was going to leave without dropping the title, which was never the case. McMahon portrayed it as if he was doing Hart a favor and actually swerving Bischoff in allowing Hart to go. And McMahon was the catalyst when he told Hart to see if he could get the Bischoff deal. The simple part of the story is Hart was vocally negative about the direction of the company, and Hart and Michaels had gotten toxic. Hart was also making $1.5 million a year, about double Undertaker and Michaels and even more than that compared to Austin. Times were still tough for WWF, although they were just starting to break even due to a change in PPV philosophy and upping the price. But at the time, McMahon felt that if Hart was around at $1.5 million a year, that Undertaker, Michaels and eventually Austin would want the same guarantee. McMahon also saw that Hart wasnít the future. Whether at that point he thought the future was Michaels, or Austin, isnít clear, although when he laid out booking scenarios to Hart if he were to stay, by that point it was clear he felt it was Austin. Hart got a better deal, even though he didnít want it because he had no faith in WCW. In hindsight, he was right about that. But they never mentioned that the contract gave Hart the power that in the last 30 days, it was not a boss/employee relationship, but a collaboration, the creative control clause was that both sides had to agree on all booking. This is where the Paul Heyman talking head of ďVince is the boss,Ē falls apart, because it was in the contract both had to agree. And itís not like Heyman, in running a company, didnít constantly have to negotiate finishes to his talent. Thatís just how the business was in that era. It had its good and bad points. It was harder to book shows, but the superstars had an easier time staying larger than life because they protected themselves on finishes, particularly, on television. Vince wanted Hart to lose the title in Montreal to Michaels. Hart wanted to lose to Austin in the U.S. Neither would agree. Lawyers were involved. They came up with one scenario after another to get Hart to lose to Michaels in Montreal, and he said that with the nature of the feud with Michaels, he was not going to go into Montreal without the belt and would lose the belt outside of Canada. He even agreed to lose to Steve Lombardi in Madison Square Garden, which was a week later. The part that Vince Russo in his talking head piece didnít mention, and Paul Levesque of course didnít mention, was that Vince came up with a solution, or at least he thought, where Hart would beat Michaels clean in Montreal and then Hart would drop it clean to Michaels at the following PPV. It was only after Michaels refused that scenario (Michaels never talked about it publicly until once, in an interview with Rob Feinstein, the question was thrown at him, he acted stunned, but admitted that it happened and that HHH insisted to him that he was not to lose to Hart). At that point, Vince was in a bad position because heíd given Hart a scenario heíd agreed to, and then Michaels nixed it. Hart knew that, which only made him more adamant about not losing to Michaels. The compromise, and this was the scenario the night before that McMahon presented in the production meeting, and that Hart had agreed to, was that there would be a non-finish in Montreal, and on the next PPV, there would be a four-way with Michaels, Hart, Undertaker and Ken Shamrock. It would be an elimination match, so Hart would lose cleanly in his last night in, to either Undertaker or Shamrock. Hart had great respect for Undertaker, and Hart personally recruited Shamrock to WWF. The point being is that Hart considered Shamrock almost a protťgť, since Shamrock even trained in Calgary for his WWF debut in Hartís camp under Leo Burke and heíd have had no problems losing to either one on the way out. Given who the two were, that should have been obvious, but tensions were high and I donít know that anybody was truly thinking straight. Whoever beat Hart for the fall would have then lost the final fall clean to Michaels. Vince gets Michaels as champion, which was important because Michaels was absolutely the best guy to hold the belt to drop it to Austin at Mania the next year, since Austin was surpassing both Hart and Michaels as the top guy by that time. The main reason Hart had the problem with Michaels is that when Vince had first told Hart the long-term plan was to get the title to Michaels, which he didnít oppose at first, and Hart told Michaels he was fine losing to him, Michaels came back and said he was happy he said it but that he wasnít willing if asked, to return the favor. Itís hard to believe he said that, but he actually said it on two different occasions. This came shortly after Michaels had gotten the finish of the European title match with Davey Boy Smith changed in a U.K. match, as Smith was going to beat Michaels to retain his title. The office booked it that way largely to prove to the locker room Michaels would lose a big match because so many guys were mad, because Michaels had publicly talked in the locker room about how he doesnít do jobs. Smith had then dedicated the match on television to his sister, who was dying of cancer. Then, the night of the show, they came to Smith and said that they were switching the title, with the idea of building a huge rematch on a U.K. only PPV early the next year where heíd beat Michaels. This came in the dressing room just before the match and he couldnít even tell his sister beforehand that he was losing, and she did not take it well. I know this sounds silly today over a ďfakeĒ wrestling match but it was a different business then. You want to know how much heat Michaels had. In that period, there were two wrestlers I had to talk out of fighting with Michaels (neither of which was Hart, because he and I werenít on speaking terms at that time), because I told them it wasnít worth losing your job over, and both were guys who would have been fired in an instant for it. This was well before Hart was leaving. Most champions of that era under those circumstances would have outright refused to drop the title to a guy who told them to their face twice that they wouldnít return the favor if asked. Michaels, on the documentary, did say he crossed the line with the ďSunny DaysĒ comment, which was a catalyst for a lot of problems. It was that comment that led to their backstage fight. Michaels, then single, now married, said if someone would have said that on TV about him, heíd have immediately punched them in the mouth. Levesqueís comments from a 2007 interview were notable because there were all the outright falsehoods in the narrative, the idea Hartís contract was to expire in Montreal and that he may have gone on Nitro the next day holding the belt if they didnít beat him that night. He claimed Hart shouldnít have just vacated the title. And he was right. Given the circumstances of the time, it was imperative to Vince that Hart lose the title in the ring. Hart and his lawyers suggested various options to do so. Not dropping the belt in the ring was never an issue in real life, only one created after the fact to justify the decision. However, Hart did suggest not dropping the title in the ring hours before the match with Michaels, claiming so much had gotten out in the media, and just handing it over, as Michaels had done the prior February. McMahon agreed, although by that time heíd have agreed to anything Hart said because he was trying to get him to let his guard down. But the wheels were in motion and plan was in place before Hart made that suggestion. At the point the plan was in place, everyone was under the idea that the title change would be in Springfield. But there was a lot of uneasiness just because they were in a wrestling war and their champion had signed a contract with the opposition. Vince wanted it off him immediately and the pressure had caused everyone, from McMahon to Michaels to Hart, to end up at odds with each other. Hart was under contract for more than three weeks after the Montreal match. It only turned out to be his last match because after being double-crossed, he quit. Even though he didnít come to his bookings the next three weeks, he got paid in full his last $85,000 or so that was still owed. Bischoff had agreed to let Hart stay an extra week after his contract expired so Hart could drop the title on the following PPV, in Springfield, MA. There was an outstanding lawsuit and it had been established in one case (when Flair used the WCW belt on WWF television in 1991) and there was a legal action going on over a second case (Madusa throwing the WWF womenís belt in a garbage can) to where it was clear a title belt was the companyís intellectual property. There was no possible way at that point in time, that such a scenario could happen. He had a valid WWF contract and the belt was established in court cases as the intellectual property of the promotion, not the temporary property of the champion. Plus, if Hart was to be on Nitro the next day, why wasnít he on Nitro the next day? If anything, what happened in Montreal should have made it more likely, not less likely, heíd show up there. Even 17 years later, people still use that story that could not have legally happened because if it could have, you think it wouldnít have? Even after the contract ended up breached in Montreal, it still didnít happen, and at that point, you could at least make a legal argument it could have. The reason it didnít was because he was under WWF contract for several more weeks. Hart didnít even appear on Nitro until mid-December, even though the quicker he was on Nitro, the better it would have been to capitalize on the Montreal finish. As it played out, it did benefit Hart, except WCW totally dropped the ball on Hart and his value in the Canadian market. But any study of the Montreal finish that ignores the contract, ignores Michaels refusing to put Hart over, and still pushes the idea that Hart could have showed up with the belt the next night on Nitro is not just showing a WWE bias but being completely dishonest. Vince McMahon was put in a tough situation and as fate would have it, the path he chose benefitted him in the long run, in ways nobody could have ever possibly figured ahead of time. But there were options, and creating the idea that there werenít any wasnít true.
Ryback is currently recovering from hernia surgery.
Barrett is now set to return in December after shoulder surgery. He had hoped for November since thatís when the U.K. tour takes place, but doctors had always given him December as the timetable.