Our Favorite Matches Of The Pandemic Era

July 2021 is a big month for professional wrestling. WWE and AEW are returning to live touring. Impact Wrestling and Ring Of Honor are welcoming back live fans for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Somehow, professional wrestling survived more than a year of uncertainty, lockdowns and empty arenas.

The Wrestling Mayhem Show wanted to celebrate the wrestlers and the other creative minds who helped us get through the past year and a half. Here are some favorite matches of our hosts, guests and listeners from the “Pandemic Era” – the period of time that began in the middle of March 2020 and stretched into July 2021.

In WWE Battle Royals, Beware The “Hidden Opponent”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A battle royal has come down to two competitors. The crowd buzzes as they stare at one another for a few moments. The intensity swells. Then, they go at it. Near-eliminations are teased as the drama builds. Finally, one competitor is able to send the other over the top rope and down the floor.

The crowd roars as the apparent winner stands tall. But wait! There’s another battle royal entrant you completely forgot about. He/she reappears and steals the victory for him/herself.

It happened again during the Survivor Series 2020 Kickoff show.

If you’re starting to feel like you’ve seen this sort of thing before, you’re not alone. I saw some fans on Twitter saying exactly that.

First I Rant, Then I Research

What makes this more bizarre for me is that I had just unleashed my own rant over WWE’s tendency to run the “hidden opponent” finish in its battle royals just over a month ago.

Here’s what set me off, in case you’d already forgotten.

The morning after my rant, I wondered if I was the one who’s crazy. Is it all in my head? Are there really that many “hidden opponent” battle royal finishes in WWE? 

I combed through the results of every WWE-sanctioned battle royal I could find dating back to the beginning of 2015. It turns out, I’m not crazy. But the situation may not be as bad as you and some other fans think. Before we begin I should point out that I’m excluding Royal Rumble matches from this exercise.

WWE Keeps It Clean…For A Bit

Up until The Miz and Lana got their battle royal wins, WWE had a clean slate in 2020, running five straight with NO “hidden opponent” ending. In fact, WWE had been on a pretty good run dating back to June 2019.

That battle royal on June 19, 2019 was TEXTBOOK “hidden opponent” booking. It was the NXT UK Women’s Title #1 Contendership Battle Royal. Kay Lee Ray quietly disappears early in the match with an apparent knee injury, only to reemerge at the very end to ambush Xia Brookside.

At WrestleMania, on April 7, 2019, we had a pair of “hidden opponent” attempts in BOTH battle royals! Neither worked out as intended. Carmella successfully surprised, and eventually eliminated, Sarah Logan. Later, Colin Jost and Michael Che tried to sneak up on Braun Strowman. It didn’t work out for them.

We also can’t overlook a 15-man battle royal at the Worlds Collide event that aired in February 2019. You may consider this a borderline entry under the “hidden opponent” criteria, but hear me out.

Jordan Devlin is in the final three, but he ends up down and nearly motionless in the corner for nearly 45 seconds while Velveteen Dream and Tony Nese do battle. Devlin only springs back to life after Dream eliminates Nese and a well-timed dropkick eliminates Dream. In my eyes, this is a “hidden opponent” finish. The key evidence is Dream raising his arms in victory after eliminating Nese. Not great awareness of his surroundings by Dream, but I’m counting this one.

For the next “hidden opponent” finish, you head back to Monday Night Raw on October 8, 2018. It’s the Global Battle Royal. It’s Kurt Angle disguised as The Conquistador getting the drop on Baron Corbin. It is TEXTBOOK “hidden opponent”!

Our next stop is April 8, 2018 for the first-ever WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal and another TEXTBOOK “hidden opponent” finish as Naomi surprised Bayley.

Defining “Peak Hidden Opponent”

Bookending Naomi’s “hidden opponent” victory at WrestleMania and Kay Lee Ray’s on NXT UK in June 2019 allowed me to frame a period in WWE history as “Peak Hidden Opponent”. Between Naomi’s win on April 8, 2018 and KLR’s on June 19, 2019, WWE held 15 battle royals. Six of them featured “hidden opponent” endings. And if my math is correct, that’s 40%. I believe this is where my frustration with more recent battle royal finishes was rooted.

As I mentioned, I dug through battle royal results from WWE dating back to 2015. Here’s how things stacked up for each of those years.

  • 2020: 2 “Hidden Opponent” Finishes, 5 Clean Finishes (29%)
  • 2019: 4 “Hidden Opponent” Finishes, 6 Clean Finishes (40%)
  • 2018: 2 “Hidden Opponent” Finishes, 7 Clean Finishes (22%)
  • 2017: 1 “Hidden Opponent” Finishes, 5 Clean Finishes (17%) (*There were also 2 “No Contests” that I did not count for either column)
  • 2016: 3 “Hidden Opponent” Finishes, 4 Clean Finishes (43%)
  • 2015: 0 “Hidden Opponent” Finishes, 3 Clean Finishes (0%)

Since 2015, WWE has been running the “hidden opponent” ending in about 29% of its battle royals overall. Those peaks in 2019 and back in 2016 really stick out.

So, while it may feel to you like it’s been happening a lot, WWE’s recent battle royal booking is not out of line with how the company has been operating since 2015. In fact, the past or month or so has been a course correction for the company.

Predicting G1 Climax 30: Tiebreaker Hell!

G1 Climax 30, the latest installment in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual gluttony of grappling greatness, is finally here. The tournament kicks off on Saturday, September 19.

Part of the fun for fans is trying to predict what will happen. A lot of websites now host contests, challenging people to correctly guess the outcome of every match in the G1. Filling out an entry is no easy task. I needed my laptop and a few pieces of paper to organize my thoughts.

You can’t just go through the list of matches and pick winners. You need to determine the final destination and then backtrack from there. Factor in the past history of wrestler, what they’ve done in the past, what they’ll do in the future and even their hometowns. Add in the complications of possible tiebreakers and it’s enough to twist your brain into knots.

Anyway, here’s how I think all the matches will play out and some of the storylines I’m predicting for G1 Climax 30. Will it actually play out this way? Who knows, but it’s fun to try!

A BLOCK

Night 1 (Saturday, Sept. 19 – Osaka)

Will Ospreay defeats Yujiro
Taichi defeats Jeff Cobb
Minoru Suzuki defeats Tomohiro Ishii
Jay White defeats Shingo Takagi
Kota Ibushi defeats Kazuchika Okada

Night 2 (Wednesday, Sept. 23 – Hokkaido)

Shingo Takagi defeats Jeff Cobb
Kazuchika Okada defeats Yujiro
Minoru Suzuki defeats Taichi
Tomohiro Ishii defeats Will Ospreay
Kota Ibushi defeats Jay White

I really wanted to have Taichi blitz through the first few nights of this year’s G1 and set him up for a big match against Okada on Night 4, but there’s no way I can justify an underling defeating the beloved leader of Suzuki-gun.

Night 3 (Sunday, Sept. 27 – Hyogo)

Taichi defeats Yujiro
Minoru Suzuki defeats Jeff Cobb
Kota Ibushi defeats Tomohiro Ishii
Will Ospreay defeats Shingo Takagi
Kazuchika Okada defeats Jay White

Why have Ospreay defeat Shingo? I think Ospreay will come out of this G1 positioned for some future shots at the NEVER Openweight Title and Shingo is a key player in that division right now.

Standings After Three Nights
Kota Ibushi: 6
Minoru Suzuki: 6
Kazuchika Okada: 4
Taichi: 4
Will Ospreay: 4
Jay White: 2
Shingo Takagi: 2 
Tomohiro Ishii: 2
Jeff Cobb: 0
Yujiro: 0

Suzuki is a tricky guy to predict. He was deliberately left out of last year’s G1, and his disappointment and frustration later propelled him to a IWGP Heavyweight Championship match against Okada. So, will Suzuki be treated like Yuji Nagata and Satoshi Kojima were in recent years, or will this be a resurgence? I’m going with the latter, but I could easily see it flipped the other way.

Night 4 (Wednesday, Sept. 30 – Tokyo)

Minoru Suzuki defeats Yujiro
Kota Ibushi defeats Jeff Cobb
Kazuchika Okada defeats Taichi
Jay White defeats Will Ospreay
Tomohiro Ishii defeats Shingo Takagi

Night 5 (Monday, Oct. 5 – Kagawa)

Shingo Takagi defeats Yujiro
Jay White defeats Jeff Cobb
Minoru Suzuki defeats Kazuchika Okada
Taichi defeats Tomohiro Ishii
Kota Ibushi defeats Will Ospreay

Night 6 (Wednesday, Oct. 7 – Hiroshima)

Tomohiro Ishii defeats Yujiro
Kazuchika Okada defeats Jeff Cobb
Will Ospreay defeats Minoru Suzuki
Jay White defeats Taichi
Shingo Takagi defeats Kota Ibushi

Standings After Six Nights
Kota Ibushi: 10
Minoru Suzuki: 10
Jay White: 8
Kazuchika Okada: 8
Shingo Takagi: 6
Taichi: 6
Tomohiro Ishii: 6
Will Ospreay: 6
Jeff Cobb: 0
Yujiro: 0

Night 7 (Saturday, Oct. 10 – Osaka)

Jeff Cobb defeats Tomohiro Ishii
Jay White defeats Yujiro
Will Ospreay defeats Taichi
Minoru Suzuki defeats Kota Ibushi
Kazuchika Okada defeats Shingo Takagi

Here’s your battle for control of A Block between Minoru and Kota. This is also where I start worrying about my predictions because their match is not scheduled to be the main event on this night. It’s supposed to be Kazuchika and Shingo going on last. Anyway, Minoru wins and we all get to freak out over him being two nights away from an incredible Cinderella run to the finals of G1 Climax 30.

Night 8 (Tuesday, Oct. 13 – Shizuoka)

Will Ospreay defeats Jeff Cobb
Kota Ibushi defeats Yujiro
Shingo Takagi defeats Taichi
Jay White defeats Minoru Suzuki
Kazuchika Okada defeats Tomohiro Ishii

Night 9 (Friday, Oct. 16 – Tokyo)
(*Official Match Order TBD)

Yujiro defeats Jeff Cobb
Taichi defeats Kota Ibushi
Shingo Takagi defeats.Minoru Suzuki
Jay White defeats Tomohiro Ishii
Kazuchika Okada defeats Will Ospreay

We’re set up for some good drama heading into the final night. Kota and Minoru hold a potential tiebreaking win over Okada. However, both of them lose. Still, they hold onto a chance to get into a three-way tiebreaker until White squashes those hopes. As a result, White in position to win the block if Okada falters against Ospreay, who also enters the night with a mathematical chance to win the block. 

In case you’re wondering, Here’s what happens if more than 2 wrestlers are tied at the end of the round-robin matches. The winner is determined based on which wrestler has the most points in only the matches against the other wrestlers they are tied with.

So what would happen in the dream/nightmare scenario where Okada, Ospreay, White, Ibushi and Suzuki all finish the block with 12 points (this requires that Ospreay beat Okada on the final night)? The winner of the block would be Ibushi with 6 points as a result of his wins over Okada, Ospreay and White. See? Simple, right?

As much fun as that sounds, I’m sticking with a simple head-to-head tiebreaker which goes to Okada.

Final Standings
*Kazuchika Okada: 14
Jay White: 14
Kota Ibushi: 12
Minoru Suzuki: 12
Will Ospreay: 10
Shingo Takagi: 10
Taichi: 8
Tomohiro Ishii: 6
Jeff Cobb: 2
Yujiro: 2

B BLOCK
(a.k.a. “All-Caps Hell”)

Night 1 (Sunday, Sept. 20 – Osaka)

Juice Robinson defeats YOSHI-HASHI
SANADA defeats Toru Yano
KENTA defeats Hirooki Goto
EVIL defeats Zack Sabre, Jr.
Tetsuya Naito defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi

Night 2 (Thursday, Sept. 24 – Hokkaido)

Hirooki Goto defeats SANADA
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeats Toru Yano
KENTA defeats Juice Robinson
EVIL defeats YOSHI-HASHI
Tetsuya Naito defeats Zack Sabre, Jr.

Night 3 (Tuesday, Sept. 29 – Tokyo)

SANADA defeats YOSHI-HASHI
Zack Sabre, Jr. defeats KENTA
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeats Juice Robinson
EVIL defeats Toru Yano
Tetsuya Naito defeats Hirooki Goto

Standings After Three Nights 
EVIL: 6
Tetsuya Naito: 6
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 4
KENTA: 4
SANADA: 4
Juice Robinson: 2
Hirooki Goto: 2
Zack Sabre Jr.: 2
Toru Yano: 0
YOSHI-HASHI: 0

Night 4 (Thursday, Oct. 1 – Niigata)

Juice Robinson defeats.Toru Yano
Zack Sabre, Jr. defeats Hirooki Goto
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeats YOSHI-HASHI
EVIL defeats KENTA
SANADA defeats Tetsuya Naito

Just forget what I said earlier about faction underlings beating faction leaders. I’ll explain my thinking on SANADA beating Naito in a little bit.

Night 5 (Tuesday, Oct. 6 – Hiroshima)

Hirooki Goto defeats Toru Yano
Zack Sabre, Jr. defeats SANADA
EVIL defeats Juice Robinson
Tetsuya Naito defeats YOSHI-HASHI
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeats KENTA

Night 6 (Thursday, Oct. 8 – Okayama)

Hirooki Goto defeats YOSHI-HASHI
Toru Yano defeats Zack Sabre, Jr.
SANADA defeats KENTA
Juice Robinson defeats Tetsuya Naito
EVIL defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi

I’m giving Yano a win over Zack Sabre, Jr. because I absolutely must have an epic backstage interview meltdown from ZSJ in every G1 going forward.

This is also where I have Tanahashi’s G1 going off the rails so New Japan can tell the “wily old veteran whose body let him down” story heading down the home stretch.

Standings After Six Nights 
EVIL: 12
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 8
SANADA: 8
Tetsuya Naito: 8
Hirooki Goto: 6
Juice Robinson: 6
Zack Sabre Jr.: 6
KENTA: 4
Toru Yano: 2
YOSHI-HASHI: 0

Night 7 (Sunday, Oct. 11 – Aichi)

YOSHI-HASHI defeats.Zack Sabre, Jr.
KENTA defeats Toru Yano
Juice Robinson defeats SANADA
Hirooki Goto defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi
Tetusuya Naito defeats EVIL 

I’m sorry. I meant to say that I must have TWO epic backstage interview meltdowns from ZSJ in every G1!

One other note on giving YOSHI-HASHI his win here: Aichi is his home prefecture and his hometown of Togo is about 30 minutes away from the arena where Night 7’s matches are happening. So this feels like the right spot to give him his win after many backstage interviews where he talks about his mission to prove he belongs in the G1.

Night 8 (Wednesday, Oct. 14 – Kanagawa)

KENTA defeats YOSHI-HASHI
Juice Robinson defeats Zack Sabre, Jr.
Tetsuya Naito defeats Toru Yano
EVIL defeats Hirooki Goto
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeats SANADA

I wish I could keep Tanahashi and Juice at least mathematically alive heading into the final night, but my scenario won’t allow it. We focus on the final two matches.

Night 9 (Saturday, Oct. 17)
(*Official Match Order TBD)

Toru Yano defeats YOSHI-HASHI
Zack Sabre, Jr. defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi
Hirooki Goto defeats Juice Robinson
Tetsuya Naito defeats KENTA
EVIL vs. SANADA (DRAW)

Naito seizes control of the block by beating KENTA. That puts Naito on top with 14 points  and means that if SANADA can beat EVIL, Naito will win the block by virtue of his head-to-head win over EVIL. BUT, I have EVIL dragging SANADA to a draw to secure the point he needs to win B Block. I can see the LIJ fans storming out of the arena already!

Final Standings 
EVIL: 15
Tetsuya Naito: 14
Hirooki Goto: 10
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 10
Juice Robinson: 10
SANADA: 9
KENTA: 8
Zack Sabre Jr.: 8
Toru Yano: 4
YOSHI-HASHI: 2

The final result will be disappointing for the LIJ fans, but I think it can also give new direction to the group. Going forward, SANADA can talk about how he once fought for LIJ but is now fighting for himself.

There’s also a new subplot of Naito. He was already betrayed by EVIL, and now he could blame SANADA for costing him his shot at winning the G1 Climax, first by beating Naito head-to-head and then by failing to defeat EVIL. The question going forward is whether Naito would hold a grudge.

There’s another outcome scenario I was working toward where Naito and EVIL wrestle to a draw in their match and then find themselves tied at the top of the B Block after the final night. I couldn’t find any tie-breaking rules or precedent for such a scenario and I’ve been told by many fans that New Japan would never do something this complicated. To those fans, I say there’s a first time for everything and I’m ready and willing to embrace the G1’s tiebreaker hell.

You might also notice I have both Ibushi and Tanahashi losing their matches against Taichi and Zack Sabre, Jr. I’m hoping that’ll somehow lead to a tag team championship match so New Japan can finally do whatever it’s going to do with Ibushi and Tanahashi.

In the finals of G1 Climax 30, I have Kazuchika Okada avenging his loss earlier this year to EVIL in the New Japan Cup Final and securing the right to presumably challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships at Wrestle Kingdom 15. Of course, Okada will have to defend that briefcase and we have challengers ready to go in Minoru Suzuki and Kota Ibushi.

Tetsuya Naito also comes out of the G1 with a new challenger in Juice Robinson (and maybe SANADA too). You’re also set up for a Shingo/Suzuki rematch for the NEVER Openweight Title, with Ospreay potentially waiting in the wings as the next challenger.

There are a lot of tag teams set up to challenge Taichi & ZSJ based on this outcome of the G1. Bullet Club could try to win gold by sending Jay White & EVIL after the belts while the question of who leads the faction remains somewhat unresolved. Juice could grab his old buddy David Finlay for a title match. There are also a bunch of CHAOS combinations, none more intriguing than Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI.

I hope you enjoyed some of this food for thought heading into G1 Climax 30. Enjoy the tournament and let’s hope it’s another great one!

What is Setting All Elite Wrestling Apart?

IMG_5370I have been thinking a lot about the “big shows” and who they’re for lately, and even more since last night’s AEW here in Pittsburgh.  I feel like I can finally place them.  AEW may not do the wrestling that follows all the rules, or progress storytelling in the way we are used to or want from other products, but it feels like it’s aiming, and succeeding, at betting on two things: Fun and Excitement.

The live show never really had a down moment.  Not any more than your typical indy show, in format, at least.  We were not subjected to commercials and dance breaks like it felt like overruns you on a WWE Raw taping like Cleveland this week.

It’s like we take the “car crash” segment of the WCW Cruiserweights and made it almost the whole show.  This is a style that Young Bucks have made a career on and they are all betting on enough of us fans will go along for the ride.

And just fun.  Seeing the Orange Cassidy kid clip, and the antics after the bell last night, there are gags, bits, and we’re all let in on pro wrestling’s inside joke. We’re not meant to take this too seriously but come along for the ride if we’re All In.

Will it work in the long run as a weekly episodic series on TNT with traditional Pay Per Views?  We will have to see.  But if you’re not entertained by this, or don’t see the long time appeal, it’s probably just not for you.  And that’s ok.  Because you have more options today than ever before.

Midweek War Lucha Underground with Chris DeJoseph!

LIVE from Sorgatron Media Studio in Pittsburgh, PA! Mad Mike and Sorg talk about Lucha Underground with Co Executive Producer Chris DeJoseph! We ask the tough questions about Dario Cueto’s relationships and current health, what got left on the cutting room floor of Season 3, how some characters evolved during dark matches (You won’t believe what Martin the Moth almost became, and speculate at Season 4!

Thanks to Tonio Garza of TheWrestlingRevolution.com for the sweet show graphics!

Subscribe to Mid Week War!

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