Real Talk 32: Stagnant Kingdom

A little bit of this, and a little bit of that. In this column, I’m going to talk about how Orange County has been neglected by the local wrestling scene. Before I get to that though, I’m going to start this column off by talking about the biggest event taking place in SoCal this year.

Previewing UFC 241

UFC 233 was scheduled to be held on January 28th, 2019 in Anaheim, CA at the Honda Center. It was scheduled to be headlined by a UFC Bantamweight title fight between T.J. Dillashaw and UFC Flyweight Champion Henry Cejudo. That fight was moved up a week to headline the UFC’s debut event on ESPN’s streaming service, ESPN+. As a result of the UFC not being able to find a fight an appropriate enough to headline a pay-per-view, the card was canceled. UFC 233 would’ve been held the same night as Bellator MMA at The Forum in Inglewood headlined by Fedor Emelianenko vs. Ryan Bader. UFC 233’s undercard was going to feature Dominick Cruz, but a shoulder injury forced him off the card. Other fights that were scheduled included James Vick vs. Paul Felder, Kron Gracie vs. Alex Caceres, and the UFC debut of Ben Askren against Robbie Lawler.

While the UFC canceled UFC 233 in mid-December, they were able to make it up to SoCal fans by moving UFC 232 to The Forum in Inglewood from Las Vegas on six days notice after Nevada wouldn’t grant Jon Jones a license to fight in the state due to a failed drug test in 2017 and some abnormalities in another testing sample leading up to his December 29th, 2018 fight against Alexander Gustafsson. California, the state where he failed said 2017 test, granted him his license to fight when Nevada wouldn’t. Ironically enough, Jones’ test failure came after his win over Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 in Anaheim on July 29th, 2017 to become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. The title was awarded back to Cormier a month later when Jones’ win was overturned due to the drug test failure.

Which brings us to now. On Saturday, UFC heads to Anaheim for the first time since Cormier initially lost his UFC Light Heavyweight title by knockout. Cormier will again be defending a title in a main event fight at the Honda Center. And once again, he’ll be doing it in a rematch against an opponent with a longer reach. This time, it’ll be at heavyweight and against a man he’s beaten before. Also on the card, one of the most popular fighters in MMA history, Nate Diaz, returns to competition to face former WEC and UFC Lightweight Champion, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. Plus Yoel Romero will battle the undefeated Paulo Costa.

Right now, I’m going to take a look at those three top fights. I don’t want to make predictions, as anything can happen in MMA, but here are some thoughts on these bouts.

UFC Heavyweight Championship: Daniel Cormier (c) vs. Stipe Miocic 

This fight is a rematch of their encounter at UFC 226 on July 7th, 2018. At the time, Cormier was the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and was going back to his old weight class. Miocic was looking to continue his streak of most consecutive heavyweight title defenses in the UFC. The fight lasted one round. During the first four minutes of the fight, Miocic was doing a good job at controlling distance. He even managed to score a takedown on Cormier and appeared to have rocked him with a jab-cross combo at one point. While he was doing very well for most of the fight, he ended up getting in a clinch with Cormier. That is where Cormier used some dirty boxing techniques to get a KO victory.

Heading into this fight, I’m expecting two things. The first is I feel like Cormier will look to clinch up again and come forward aggressively to negate Miocic’s height and reach advantage. This is very common in Cormier bouts, and it’s been a big key to success for him. Getting in a clinch is his greatest weapon. He uses it to set up his grappling and inside striking, so I don’t see him abandoning this always-evolving strategy of his. At the same time, I can see Miocic going back to maintaining his distance by utilizing his boxing more, using that to avoid the clinch. I also see Miocic trying to use Cormier’s aggressiveness against him the way he did against Fabrício Werdum at UFC 198 to win the heavyweight title.

As I said before, anything can happen in MMA. At times, it’s a tough sport to predict. Not every fight is going be easy to predict as CM Punk vs. Mickey Gall or James Toney vs. Randy Couture. This is one of those fights that is tough to predict. I truly don’t know who will win this fight, but I’m leaning towards Miocic regaining his title via knockout. With that said, it wouldn’t surprise me if Daniel Cormier retained via decision. No matter what the outcome will be, I’m fully expecting this to be a war.

The People’s Main Event: Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz

There is no fight I’ve been anticipating more in 2019 than this one.

While Cormier vs. Miocic will be headlining the show, the real main event is going to be Anthony Pettis vs. the returning Nate Diaz, who will be fighting for the first time since having back-to-back fights against Conor McGregor in 2016. It wasn’t as if Nate was dealing with injuries or anything in that time. There were a variety of reasons why Nate hadn’t been in action. Sometimes things fell through, and other times the UFC didn’t offer Nate what he felt he deserved. In 2018, Diaz was scheduled to return at UFC 230 in New York City against Dustin Poirier. After Poirier suffered an injury, Diaz was pulled from the card. But on Saturday night, Nate returns to the Octagon against a high-caliber opponent and former WEC and UFC Lightweight Champion, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.

This is going to be a battle between two strikers with two different styles. In one corner, you have Pettis who will bring a variety of flashy kicks and his Taekwondo base to get the better of his opponents. Over in the other corner, you have Diaz, who brings a high-volume, no-nonsense boxing style that he uses to put pressure on his opponents to overwhelm them and take them into deep waters. No matter what the result of this fight is, this is bound to be a fan-friendly fight stylistically. Both guys matchup very interestingly, and they are both pretty evenly matched on paper in every aspect of MMA from striking to trapping.

Much like Cormier/Miocic, Diaz/Pettis is a hard fight for me to predict this one. I’m a huge Nate Diaz fan, so I can’t help but to root for him. With that said, Anthony Pettis is a legitimate threat to him. Given that he’s a student Duke Roufus, I can see Pettis giving Diaz a lot of problems if he goes for leg kicks. It has been something that Diaz has had a problem with his entire career. While Diaz will most likely have problems with possible leg kicks, Pettis has come up short when facing opponents who have some boxing backgrounds similar to Nate Diaz. No matter who comes out on top, I can see this being a three-round war that goes to a decision. I can’t wait for this fight!

The Featured Bout Of The Card: Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa

If you don’t know who Paulo Costa is, you should look him up now.

He currently holds an undefeated 12-0 record. 11 of 12 of those wins came by way of KO/TKO. His other win came by way of submission. Since debuting in the UFC in 2017, Costa has gone 4-0 with notable wins over former Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks and Uriah Hall. Costa has also picked up two Performance of the Night bonuses during his time in the UFC.

While Costa is on the rise, Yoel Romero has been fighting at a level Costa is still trying to reach. He has defeated some of the sports’ biggest names. Lyoto Machida, Jacaré Souza, Chris Weidman, and Luke Rockhold just to name a few. Since his MMA debut in 2009, Romero has only been defeated by two men. One of those men is the current UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker. Out of his 13 wins in MMA, 11 of those came by way of KO/TKO. Needless to say, Yoel Romero is a force to be reckoned with.

After defeating Uriah Hall at UFC 226 on July 7, 2019, Costa was scheduled to face Yoel Romero later that year at UFC 230 on November 3. The fight didn’t take place though due to Romero still recovering from injuries. The bout was rescheduled twice but fell through both times. But here we are now. We’re a few days away from UFC 241, and it seems like we’re finally going to be getting this bout.

While I’m looking forward to Nate Diaz vs. Anthony Pettis the most, this is a fight that could end up being the most thrilling fight of the card. Both guys are finishers, so I highly doubt this will go to a decision. Nothing is certain in MMA though, and I’m sure I could end up being wrong, but I think Yoel Romero will win this one. He’s got more high-level experience than Paulo Costa, so that should play a huge role in their bout. That doesn’t mean Paulo Costa can’t win though. He could land a heavy shot and end the fight quickly. With that said, I’m still going with Yoel to walk out with a KO win in an entertaining fight. No matter what the result of this will be, I have no doubt this will be a fan-friendly fight.

UFC 241 goes down on Saturday. If you want to order it on pay-per-view, you’re going to have to be an ESPN+ subscriber. Yes, that’s right. You have to go through TWO paywalls to watch the event. ESPN and the UFC need to drop this new approach to how they distribute PPV events. Don’t get me wrong. I have ESPN+ and love it. Being able to watch 30 For 30, UFC, PFL, and tons of boxing events have made it my favorite streaming service to watch. At the same time, I feel for the people who can’t figure out how to order events or simply don’t have the money to drop to follow the sport. It’s not fan-friendly at all.

Okay now, back to pro wrestling.

Orange County Deserves Better

Over 20 years ago, Orange County was making a huge impact on the world of professional wrestling. Some of that impact can be felt today.

During the late 90s, Rick Bassman opened Extreme University, later known Ultimate University, in Orange County. In 1999, Bassman began promoting Ultimate Pro Wrestling, which held events in Orange County. UPW events featured students from Ultimate University. UPW was also a developmental affiliate promotion for the World Wrestling Federation. The promotion and school’s supporters often boasted about how it got many of its alumni signed contracts with bigger organizations. Both the school and promotion were featured in several television documentaries. UPW also had a working relationship with Shinya Hashimoto’s Pro Wrestling Zero-One in Japan. During its run, UPW became one of the most prolific and notable independent promotions in California and the United States.

Some notable alumni from the school included John Cena, The Miz, Lisa Marie Varon (Victoria) and Chris Masters just to name a few. UPW also showcased many future wrestling stars such as Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Joey Ryan, Paul London, Brian Kendrick, and Rocky Romero. UPW also brought in big-name stars such as The Hardy Boyz, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Jerry Lynn, Juventud Guerrera, the Legion of Doom, Masato Tanaka, Ivory, Edge, Christian, Ken Shamrock, Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Kurt Angle, and Triple H. in 2000 and 2002, UPW was voted the SoCal Promotion of the Year.

Also starting up in 1999 was the original Revolution Pro. Unlike UPW, Revolution Pro didn’t focus on American-style wrestling or bodybuilders who became pro wrestlers. Instead, it focused on smaller, more athletic performers who performed a hybrid style of Lucha Libre and Puroresu. The promotion’s early events were held in front of small crowds at the original Rudos Dojo in Anaheim before moving to Los Angeles County early in 2001. Later that year, the promotion returned to Orange County for the inaugural Revolution J tournament on September 28th, 2001 at the Anaheim Marketplace. That same year, Revolution Pro was voted SoCal Promotion of the Year.

RevPro’s biggest star during its run was a masked performer from Orange County who went by the name of Super Dragon. Super Dragon was one of the main focal points of RevPro’s events and headlined its highest drawing events. He was also one of the most popular, yet polarizing, wrestlers in SoCal at the time. In 2003, Super Dragon, along with his partners from RevPro Disco Machine, Excalibur, and Rudos Dojo graduate Top Gun Talwar, went on to create Pro Wrestling Guerrilla with Joey Ryan and Scott Lost. The promotion’s core roster during its early years was made up of many RevPro workers. In 2004, PWG held several events at the Elks Lodge in Santa Ana.

Super Dragon was trained at the World Power Wrestling Lucha Libre school in Orange County, which was run by Martin Marin. It was also the place where Lil’ Cholo got his start. For years, WPW operated out of the Anaheim Marketplace. At one point, the promotion held weekly Sunday afternoon events at the Marketplace. In 1999, the promotion drew 1,000 fans for a show featuring Perro Aguayo and El Hijo Del Santo. For years, WPW promoted weekly events at the back of the swap meet every Sunday. After suffering an injury in 1998, Ultimo Dragon made his first in-ring appearance in America at a WPW event held at the Anaheim Marketplace on November 16th, 2002.

But as years went by, Orange County’s wrestling scene lost a lot of momentum.

That brings us to now.

In December, New Japan Pro Wrestling will return to Anaheim as part of CharaExpo USA. Besides that and a possible WWE house show, there isn’t much for fans in Orange County to get excited about.

There aren’t any shows featuring high-quality shows going on there. The only promotion that runs there regularly is Orange County Championship Wrestling. It is one of the most low-rent promotions running in SoCal right now. Some promotions like GCF and 3PW (no, not that 3PW) run sporadically. The lineups of those shows mostly tend to feature workers from OCCW. Hell, GCF shows are held where OCCW’s wrestling school is. They’re pretty much OCCW-Lite now. Needless to say, fans in the Orange County market are being neglected. If they want to see good shows these days, they have to drive to either Los Angeles or San Diego to do so.

Earlier this month, Impact Wrestling held three events in Southern California. The first took place at Esports Arena in Santa Ana. Based on what people there told me, it drew a good crowd despite the shows being poorly promoted. The other two shows took place in Hollywood and Port Hueneme. Both of those shows didn’t draw as well. To me, there were two things to learn from this. The first thing to learn from this is that if Impact comes back to SoCal, they should partner with someone else to handle their local promoting. The second thing to learn from this is that there is an untapped market in Orange County right now.

There are fans there who want to see good shows in their area. The Impact show was proof that they’ll show up, even if the show is put on by a promotion that has fallen in terms of notoriety and not promoted that great. Meanwhile, a clusterfuck of promotions are all running within a few miles of each other here in the LA County area. And they’re drawing the same 60 or so people who go to shows every week. Hell, the Inoki Dojo seems to have a show or two happening there almost every weekend. Instead of running in the same area as everyone else, some local promoters running in these cluttered LA County areas should be looking at Orange County to run their shows.

As I said above, it’s an untapped market. If fans in Orange County showed up for an Impact show that started at 6:00 pm on a Friday, most of them would probably go to an event held on a Saturday and is filled with good talent. Now I’m not saying they have to go there, but I feel like promotions like Rival Pro, Maverick Wrestling, and even Bar Wrestling could benefit more from running in Orange County. On top of that, the fans there just deserve better shows. Most of the shows in the OC are headlined by guys like Gustin Uberstud. OC fans shouldn’t have to drive to other counties just to see SoCal’s best performers or quality shows. They deserve more options and better quality shows.

At one time, Orange County was THE place for pro wrestling in SoCal. It was the birthplace of a cutting-edge promotion. One of the industry’s biggest stars got his start in Orange County. A lot of great performers came from Orange County. It is an area that has a solid history and an eager fan base who want to see good pro wrestling events. If promoters looked into running there, I could see it prospering once again. While I’m sure there are some areas in Orange County that have some negatives (possible restrictions, expensive venues, homeless encampments, racist conservatives, etc.) there are still way more upsides in running there than LA at this point.

That’s just my take on this. Simply put, Orange County fans deserve better pro wrestling. All of you fans in Orange County have been getting nothing but low-quality shows. This needs to change. Especially for the people of California’s 48th congressional district, who voted Dana Rohrabacher out of office in favor of Harley Rouda in the last midterm election. I sincerely hope that good promoters who use quality talent bring some shows to Orange County. The scene would only become stronger if there were more quality shows in Orange County.

Let’s try to make this happen, SoCal!

About the Author

Andrew
SoCal's favorite son.

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