Originally published at POLLOCK'S NEWS UPDATE: The Launch of AEW Rampage
POST IT NOTES
**We are live tonight at 11:15 p.m. ET as Wai Ting and I review both Friday Night SmackDown and AEW Rampage. This show is a POST Wrestling Café exclusive and all Patrons have live access to the show and we will be taking calls. The show will be added to the Café feed late tonight to download. Both shows will be reviewed on the Friday night show from now on.
**We have a great interview on the site with Ariel Helwani discussing the re-launch of The MMA Hour this Monday, leaving ESPN after three years and the events of the past year, how he pieced together the new outlets he is working with, being previously represented by Nick Khan, and lots of other insight. The MMA Hour returns this Monday & Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET on MMA Fighting.
**MCU L8R has returned with Wai Ting and WH Park reviewing the first episode of Marvel’s “What If?” on Disney+. This show will be released each Thursday for the duration of the season and available for all POST Wrestling Café members.
**On Sunday, I’ll be back with WH Park for POST Puroresu and that will include a review of NJPW Resurgence from Los Angeles.
THE LAUNCH OF AEW RAMPAGE ON TNT
After its television launch in the fall of 2019, contract renewal several months later, and going through the pandemic, AEW enters its next major chapter with the debut of Rampage tonight.
The heavily discussed “third hour” of linear television programming will begin on TNT tonight immediately following Friday Night SmackDown on Fox. It’s the latest sign of WarnerMedia’s attention to the promotion that will be followed by the “Rhodes to the Top” reality series and three other programs being developed according to a recent job listing by the media conglomerate. This comes several months before Dynamite and Rampage will migrate to sister station TBS.
In this era of producing mass content for max dollars, AEW is adding an additional hour after riding a wave of momentum over the past month. The balance is creating “must-see” programming that doesn’t siphon viewers but adds or at least maintains the existing base. For WWE, it’s been the story of the past nine years adding a third hour to Raw that has greatly hurt the show’s appeal, however, it’s never been more valuable with a reported average annual value of $265 million while successfully licensing SmackDown to Fox for another $205 million per year.
Spurred on by the palpable intrigue of CM Punk and Bryan Danielson arriving in the company, Wednesday’s Dynamite has topped one million viewers for four of the past five episodes and hit their third-highest 18-49 audience for the August 4th Homecoming episode while finishing fourth among all cable programming that week.
The only experiment we have to gauge Friday night interest for AEW programming is from their four-week run of Dynamite due to the NBA playoffs. From May 28th through June 18th, the four episodes of Dynamite averaged 506,500 and 254,000 in 18-49, although breaking it down to the 10-11 p.m. ET block (which Rampage will occupy), the average was 562,000 and 276,000. It is worth adding that those Fridays included NBA playoff competition, which Rampage won’t be contending against. (Data according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter)
AEW SVP Chris Harrington recently spoke to Brandon Thurston about the Friday night performances. When assessing their live viewership, same-day viewership (including DVR viewers until 2-3 a.m.), and time-shifted audiences, they found that the Friday night shows saw live and same-day audiences shrink but the time-shifted viewership increased, so numbers were down but not as significantly as it appeared.
AEW and TNT have a strong job alerting people that Rampage is beginning and it’s a solid card with three title matches tonight. However, they have made next week’s episode even larger with “The First Dance” and the expectation of CM Punk’s first appearance for a wrestling promotion on national television since January 2014. It guarantees two strong weeks off the bat, and realistically, the third week could be even larger depending on Punk is introduced in Chicago. As we saw for “Winter is Coming” the big event they promoted, ended with the surprise of Sting leading to an even bigger number the next week.
When SmackDown moved to Fox in October 2019, they built up the debut as big as possible including an appearance by The Rock, and averaged 3.88 million viewers that night. The next week they had the Draft and was down to 2.87 million and week three was 2.42 million. For Rampage, it should be a lock that week two will outdraw the first and like any program, it’s a month or two into the show that we’ll see the performance result and where the audience settles at.
There are questions we won’t have answers for until we have several weeks of results. Is the AEW viewer willing to carve out another hour especially on a tougher night? Does a great amount of SmackDown viewers find the show over time? Does Rampage impact Dynamite viewership? Do fans with a finite amount of free time opt to watch Rampage as their Friday night wrestling fix and it impacts SmackDown viewership?
The added hour is also going to push the booking prowess of Tony Khan, who has largely been applauded for his effectiveness in a role he never held prior to AEW. While fans lament all the hours of programming WWE need to produce and the impact it has on quality, they have two separate rosters and teams while overseen by Vince McMahon and Bruce Prichard. AEW has one large roster with Khan funneling ideas and having the final say. Long-term, you must look at the potential of burnout for Khan as it’s mind-boggling when you break down all his duties without adding his non-AEW commitments. The idea he’s adding editing duties for Dark and Elevation makes you wonder about the balancing act he has.
A generation ago, WCW and WWF both went through the growing pains of expansion of programming. In early 1998, WCW not only added the two-hour Thunder program but also expanded Nitro to three hours. They had their hottest year ever but over time it was a drain with Nitro consolidated to two hours in January 2000 and Thunder became a throwaway show.
WWF was at its popularity peak when they were producing Raw (including taping it on alternate weeks) and Sunday Night Heat, which was a big show on USA Network after its addition in the summer of 1998. They added SmackDown on UPN in August 1999 and was the tipping point for Vince Russo to explore his options when he and Ed Ferrara were responsible for two additional hours of programming on top of their existing duties. WWF did a much better job establishing SmackDown as a must-see, although this did greatly diminish Heat as a casualty. The company rode its wave of momentum throughout 2000 (without Steve Austin for the first nine months) and peaked at WrestleMania in 2001. It’s hard to pinpoint SmackDown as a factor but in 1999, WWF was ingrained in pop culture and that can be fleeting when it’s the same characters week-after-week and you’re going from two to four hours of programming. It was that exact rationale that spurred on the original brand split in March 2002. Long-term, it was a great play by the company resurrecting the brand split in July 2016 and then signing a massive deal with Fox in the spring of 2018.
In a nutshell, that’s the game today. Producing more and more content and hoping that you maintain your audience but more realistically, understanding it will erode over time along with the natural decline, but you can make enough money from the existing numbers to compensate for the lost ones. Raw isn’t doing 4-5 million viewers per week like 2001 but their home network is paying a lot more than $28 million per year and a cut of the ad revenue when they were achieving those figures. That’s the trade-off with the core content rights serving as the pillars of WWE’s business today.
The coming months are of great importance for AEW as they have set the table for several big events that will last beyond tonight’s premiere. They will run the Chicago market four times in sixteen days including the All Out show (that could be their biggest of all-time), will make their Northeast debut in Newark, and then host their largest attended show ever at Arthur Ashe Stadium on September 22nd.
These are the building blocks that are setting the stage for the next major chapter that’s a long road and that’s when AEW’s rights come due with their deal with TNT running until the end of 2023. With two viable programs on cable, it will only strengthen their hand especially if they can successfully argue that WWE is not overvalued, AEW is undervalued.
**The wrestling community was struck by the news of the passing of Jahmale Hepburn, who died over the weekend. Hepburn, who was known online as ‘Real Hero’ was a constant go-to for hard-to-find matches and a great supplier of Japanese wrestling through his various channels. Chris Hero was the one to note his passing after hearing from his brother Leroy. Hepburn ran various channels on YouTube, Daily Motion, and Vimeo and anyone going down a rabbit hole of online matches would recognize his name immediately for his posts. From seeing all the accounts of people’s personal interactions including wrestlers, he sounded like a really great person that was encouraging and loved sharing his fandom with others. People like Hepburn are not going to be known to all but helped create a foundation for those who will follow the industry for their entire lives, that are seeking out old material, and is an underrated aspect to the popularity pro wrestling maintains at its most core level.
**Alan 4L shares his thoughts and memories of Hepburn.
**Greg Oliver at SLAM Wrestling has written a pair of stories on the passing of Dominic DeNucci, who died at the age of 89 as reported on Thursday. Oliver got to know DeNucci very well over the years and has a fantastic obit on the individual and a separate story on his personal memories with him. DeNucci was originally from Italy and came to Canada when he was 19 before being trained and entering the industry. DeNucci traveled and worked in many parts of the world with extended stays in Calgary and Vancouver and became a big star in Australia for Jim Barnett’s World Championship Wrestling where he won their version of the world title three times feuding with Killer Kowalski and Ray Stevens. In the U.S, he made stops in San Francisco, Buffalo for the NWF, Los Angeles, and was a well-known figure for his time with the WWWF. DeNucci won the WWWF tag titles with Victor Rivera in December 1971, although Rivera was replaced by Pat Barrett during that reign and they held them until the following summer losing to The Blackjacks. With Dino Bravo, they won the same tag titles in March 1978 from Mr. Fuji & Professor Tanaka and dropped them to The Yukon Lumberjacks that June. He wrestled sporadically on independents as late as 2012 when he was 80, although modern fans will associate him as a trainer for the likes of Mick Foley, Shane Douglas, and the late Brian Hildebrand.
In Foley’s first book, “Have a Nice Day”, he wrote:
Dominic was not an easy guy to impress, and when he was impressed, he wasn’t real big on compliments. I guess that’s why it meant so much to me when he finally started praising me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like he was cold-hearted, he was just more likely to say, “It wasa not bad” about something that had gone well. I did find out, however, that he’d been impressed with my ability to get back up after taking a backdrop. “I give that kid from New York ten backdrop, and he musta have a ball this big because he kept getting up,” I later heard he had said about our first training sessions.
When Foley began training, DeNucci told Foley he was to stay in college, or else he wouldn’t train him, and was advice Foley passed along to aspiring wrestlers. Among the pieces of advice that DeNucci imparted on a young Foley included “Don’t think you gonna make a living doing this bullshit” as a way to temper his expectations to the odds of becoming a big star.
**Here is the card for the debut edition of AEW Rampage from the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania airing at 10 p.m. ET on TNT and streaming on TSN Direct/digital in Canada:
*AEW Women’s Championship: Dr. Britt Baker (champion) vs. Red Velvet
*TNT Championship: Miro (champion) vs. Fuego Del Sol
*IMPACT Championship: Kenny Omega (champion) vs. Christian Cage – this is an intense week for Omega working the six-man tag on Wednesday, tonight’s match, and flying to Mexico for TripleMania on Saturday
The broadcast team will consist of Excalibur, Taz, Chris Jericho, and Mark Henry.
The IMPACT Championship match is the most interesting match booking-wise. I really don’t like the idea of Omega losing now when there are some big matches on the horizon that warrant him keeping the AEW title (rather than losing to Hangman Page as most assumed for All Out). In the short-term, Cage is the opponent you’re building, and he could use the added momentum of beating Omega to prove he’s a threat at All Out. Long-term, Cage isn’t the big match and it’s not the match that All Out is relying on to pull a number and there’s a lot of equity in the first loss Omega suffers that I wouldn’t trivialize to build up a secondary match at All Out. It’s a curious decision to book two matches between them and has led to much speculation from fans that the All Out opponent will be different. There are certainly many ways AEW can go and this is one of those instances where one should wait to see how it plays out before casting a verdict. Cage will be on IMPACT next week with Brian Myers set to challenge the winner of tonight’s match at the Emergence special on 8/20.
**Friday Night SmackDown takes place from the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Fox with the following announced:
*Intercontinental Championship: Apollo Crews (champion) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
*Face-to-face segment involving Roman Reigns and John Cena
*A contract signing between Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks for SummerSlam
**Here are the matches for tonight’s edition of NJPW Strong airing at 10 p.m. ET on New Japan World:
*Tom Lawlor & Danny Limelight vs. Lio Rush & Karl Fredericks
*Fred Yehi vs. Hikuleo
*Wheeler Yuta vs. Barrett Brown
**WWE has announced the following matches for 205 Live at 10 p.m. ET tonight on the WWE Network:
*Joe Gacy vs. Josh Briggs
*Ikemen Jiro vs. Grayson Waller
**CM Punk was interviewed by Scott Fishman of TV Insider to promote the debut of ‘Heels’ this Sunday night on Starz. Punk will be playing the character of Ricky Rabies and was asked about the different programming dedicated to pro wrestling that ‘Heels’ is part of:
It makes my heart glow a little bit. We’ve seen a lot of programming dedicated to professional wrestling. You have Dark Side of the Ring on Vice, A&E is doing their revisionist histories for most of their biographies that I saw. It’s out in the zeitgeist. It almost seems like pro wrestling shows on television don’t get as much attention as some of the other stuff because people are more into the behind-the-scenes stuff. I thought Dark Side of the Ring was a great television show because it’s honest and real. And that is what Heels is. It’s honest and it’s real, but it’s fictional television. It is a show about a family. The family business just happens to be professional wrestling.
Punk was also asked about the overall health of the current landscape of pro wrestling:
I think the older the stuff is the better. I think it’s partly unfortunate that WWE owns the super good libraries in pro wrestling. I think that stuff is classic and they don’t even put it on their network. They are sitting on it. I want to watch Austin Idol versus Jerry Lawler in Memphis. I do think the landscape of pro wrestling in general really needs a kick in the d***. I think we are about there. I think there are people out there stirring the pot and causing trouble in a good way. It’s a fun world. There is nothing like it. Pro wrestling gets crapped on by a number of people. But when it’s done on a high level and it’s really good, there is nothing better.
**AAA presents TripleMania XXIX on Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET from Arena Ciudad, although it’s going to be tough to watch the show live for those outside of Mexico. Because of the lawsuit over those previously running Lucha Underground, AAA cannot air the show outside of the country. Whether this is well-known or not will be determined tomorrow night when fans are seeking out the show, which should be significant given it’s the flagship show of the year and Kenny Omega is wrestling. While live viewing will be limited, I would imagine the show will be circulating more than usual the next day. Below is the line-up for Saturday:
*Mask vs. Hair: Psycho Clown vs. Rey Escorpion
*Mega Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega (champion) vs. Andrade El Idolo
*Reina de Reinas vs. IMPACT Knockouts Championship: Faby Apache vs. Deonna Purrazzo
*AAA World Tag Team Championship: Rey Fenix & Penta El Zero M vs. Hijo del Vikingo & Laredo Kid vs. Black Taurus & TBA
*Marvel Lucha Libre Exhibition: Team Leyenda Americana vs. Team Terror Purpura
*Copa Bardahl: Announced – Drago, Mamba, Mr. Iguana
*Pagano, Chessman & Murder Clown vs. Puma King, Sam Adonis & DMT Azul
**New Japan Pro Wrestling presents Resurgence on Saturday night from The Torch at The L.A. Coliseum with a pretty great show on paper. NJPW is doing a unique test where the New Japan World version will only feature Japanese commentary and Fite TV will have English commentary for those willing to pay for the show. I don’t see English commentary being a make-or-break deal for a viewer but if you’re a subscriber to New Japan World it feels like a minor annoyance when you’re already paying for a service that has previously included both. The show costs $19.99 U.S. on Fite TV and below is the card:
*IWGP U.S. Championship: Lance Archer (champion) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
*NEVER Openweight Championship: Jay White (champion) vs. David Finlay
*Jon Moxley & TBA vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows – this would seem like a prime opportunity to shoot an angle between Moxley and Tanahashi after the promo on Dynamite recently
*Tomohiro Ishii vs. Moose
*Tom Lawlor, JR Kratos, Danny Limelight, Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs vs. Lio Rush, Fred Yehi, Yuya Uemura, Brody King & Chris Dickinson – that’s a lot of talent in one match
*Fred Rosser, Rocky Romero & Wheeler Yuta vs. TJP, Clark Connors & Ren Narita
*Alex Coughlin vs. Karl Fredericks
*TBA vs. TBA
**Back in Japan, NJPW continues its Summer Struggle tour with a show in Nagano on Saturday headlined by Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI vs. EVIL, Yujiro, Dick Togo & Gedo. On Sunday, they are running Shizuoka and then it’s back-to-back nights at Korakuen Hall on Monday & Tuesday to wrap up the Super Jr. Tag League.
**AEW has added a two-day FanFest over All Out weekend. It will take place on Friday, September 3rd between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Saturday, September 4th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Renaissance Schaumberg Convention Center Hotel. Tickets went on sale today with options for meet-and-greets, live stage shows, VIP packages, and merchandise. The FanFest will be part of AEW’s three shows at the NOW Arena that week with Dynamite, Rampage, and the pay-per-view.
**Hiroshi Tanahashi spoke to Justin Barrasso at SI.com about Saturday’s Resurgence card and his expectations for more talent exchanges between companies:
I predict that once COVID is behind us, you’re going to see even more movement and exchanges between Japan and America. The U.S. heavyweight title is the key to those doors being unlocked, and that’s what makes it extra important.
**From the department of coincides, WWE has uploaded several CM Punk matches over the past week to its YouTube channel. They have added his SummerSlam matches with Jeff Hardy from 2009, John Cena in 2011, and Brock Lesnar in 2013.
**The WWE stock closed at $50.26 on Friday.
**Alex Zayne (the former Ari Sterling in WWE) returns to Game Changer Wrestling at ‘The Highest in the Room’ on September 17th in Los Angeles at the UCC.
**Dark Side of the Ring is filming a preview for the remainder of season three this weekend to air on Vice TV. Creators Evan Husney and Jason Eisener will be joined by narrator Chris Jericho to chat about the remaining topics with the Steroid distribution trial, The Plane Ride from Hell, Chris Kanyon, FMW, Luna Vachon, XPW, and Johnny K-9.
ON THIS DATE
These six were among the few highlights of WCW in 2000
The go-home angle for SummerSlam in 2012 where Brock Lesnar attacks Shawn Michaels:
**Bellator 264 takes place from the Mohegan Sun Arena tonight in Uncasville, Connecticut with the main card airing on Showtime at 9 p.m. ET with the following fights:
*Bellator Middleweight Championship: Gegard Mousasi (champion) vs. John Salter
*Sabah Homasi vs. Andrey Koreshkov
*Magomed Magomedov vs. Raufeon Stots – this was scheduled for the card at The Forum a few weeks ago and was moved, it’s a very good fight
*Everett Cummings vs. Davion Franklin
*Ty Gwerder vs. Kadzimurat Bestaev
**The PFL runs against Bellator with the start of their semi-final fights in the welterweight and lightweight divisions. The main card will feature the following tournament fights airing on ESPN 2 and ESPN+ (as well as TSN 2 in Canada):
*Welterweight Semi-final: Ray Cooper III vs. Rory MacDonald
*Welterweight Semi-final: Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Sadibou Sy
*Lightweight Semi-final: Clay Collard vs. Raush Manfio
*Lightweight Semi-final: Alex Martinez vs. Loik Radzhabov
**Ariel Helwani reported on Friday that Yoel Romero will finally make his Bellator debut on September 18th in San Jose, California. Romero is reportedly set to fight Phil Davis just days after Scott Coker noted that Romero had been cleared to fight. Romero was originally set to participate in the Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix against Anthony Johnson in the first round, but a medical issue prevented him from being cleared for that fight. Helwani added that it will be contested at 205 pounds and will serve as the main event on the card from San Jose.
POST INTERVIEW: Ariel Helwani
John Pollock is joined by Ariel Helwani to discuss the return of The MMA Hour next week and leaving ESPN.
MCU L8R: What If…? Ep. 1 “Captain Carter”
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THE BRITISH WRESTLING EXPERIENCE
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SHOT IN THE DARK
John Siino reviews this week’s editions of AEW Dark, AEW Dark: Elevation, NXT UK, NWA Powerrr, 205 Live, NJPW Strong, Ring of Honor, and Main Event in under 15 minutes on Shot In The Dark.
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