Our latest round-up of tidbits that may have flown under your radars…
We’ve a lot going on this week, particularly in exits and signings, so let’s get cracking!
NEWS: Aussie Open will be making their debut (as a tag team at least) for Pro Wrestling Guerilla on their March 1 event, called Two Hundred. They’ll be facing Chuckie T and Beretta, and it comes ten and a half years after Davis last appeared for PWG, teaming with Ash Riot in a losing effort to Hook Bomberry and TJ Perkins.
NEWS: It’s almost like we need a “transfer centre” given the news that’s been breaking this week. WWE reported that Dean Ambrose gave notice to leave the company once his contract expired… while on Wednesday, news broke of how Hideo Itami was also granted a release, with the former KENTA perhaps expected to return to Japan. Elsewhere, it’s also been reported that the Best Friends – Chuckie T and Beretta – are finishing up with New Japan, and likely headed to All Elite Wrestling, who also have also been tipped to snap up Sammy Guevera, Kylie Rae, and a guy you may have heard of: Kenny Omega.
PWInsider also reported how Hurricane Shane Helms, Sonjay Dutt and Abyss have signed with WWE… Abyss was the OVW champion, but dropped the title to Tony Gunn in a rather hurried-to match on their TV show that’ll air this week.
Also leaving Impact is Caleb Konley, who recently won PWX’s tag team titles as part of the revolt on the X16 shows last month. Matt Sydal’s also gone, after he turned down a new deal.
Expect many, many more moves as the return of competition means that options are opening up for everybody, with those whose contracts are due in the next six months perhaps in prime position to capitalise.
NEWS: This coming Thursday (February 7), AEW’s got a “Ticket Announcement Party”. Expect more than details about tickets to be announced, especially with Kenny Omega now officially a free-agent…
RATED: By the time we got around to watching Takeover and the Royal Rumble, it was old news, so here’s our non-play-by-play takes of those shows.
War Raiders vs. Undisputed Era – a hideous tope from Hanson early made me wince, which led to a long spell of Rowe having to survive Strong and O’Reilly. There’s a sweet back body drop from Hanson after his hot tag as he became a one-man wrecking crew, aided by some miscommunication among the champions. In tag team matches, there’s nothing better than a good comeback, and when you’ve got agile big men like the War Raiders, well… it just makes it even sweeter! Eventually all of the teases of Fall Out paid off, as a high/low from the champions didn’t get the job done before O’Reilly got crushed for the win. A superb, hot opener that set the bar for the rest of the show. ****¼
Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno – I’m not a fan of slight tweaks, although I get why WWE perhaps didn’t want Anheuser-Busch calling at their door. Rather than “one hit knockout” start, Riddle has a rapid, measured start as he forced Ohno outside with some early shots. It seemed like the crowd perhaps were a little unhappy that they weren’t going balls to the wall early on, as they weren’t biting as much as you’d have expected them to. Like the near-silence when a cravat’s used to throw Riddle into the ring steps… I liked how Ohno stomped on Riddle’s feet to block a German suplex (finally someone does that), but it was to no avail as Riddle got the move off anyway. There’s some toe biting as Riddle’s refusal to wear boots backfired too, which I’m sure popped Gene Snitsky, before we got a super rare tap-out due to strikes. A really good match, but the crowd not latching on took this down a few notches for me. ***½
Johnny Gargano vs. Ricochet – another title change here, and while I’m not fussed on the “conflicted Johnny Gargano” storyline, you can’t argue with the quality that this match had on show. Sequences flowed beautifully, without feeling like they were egregiously choreographed as the match started out acrobatically, then turned into more of a grounded battle. Ricochet’s simple shoving of Gargano’s slingshot spear was a neat way to avoid things… and just like that, the pace increases as Ricochet tried to dictate the pace again. Ricochet rolled back the clock as he rolled through a top rope ‘rana, landing on his feet, before a period of swings and misses ended with an overhead kick from Ricochet… who then goes for a handspring, only to get caught in a Gargano Escape… which is countered by way of an Exploder-like throw into the buckles. We’re still not done as Gargano had to find sly ways of keeping ahead of Ricochet, before a superkick just dumped the champion to the outside, where a reverse ‘rana spikes Ricochet en route to another near-fall… and then Gargano starts to lose it. Up comes the padding at ringside, but Conflicted Johnny stops himself from doing a hanging DDT off the apron instead. Instead, a missed Phoenix Splash from Ricochet acted as somewhat of a set-up to a Gargano Escape on the challenger… and after a rope break, Gargano finally uses the exposed floor, dumping Ricochet with a sheer drop brainbuster with a nasty splat. Back inside, a second slingshot DDT’s enough for Gargano to spike Ricochet with, and win the title as this near-30-minute slice of joy came to an end. Stick this on your watch-list folks! ****½
Bianca Belair vs. Shayna Baszler – I had relatively low expectations for this, primarily because this was Belair’s first “big match”. Not that I expected this to stink or anything like that… Belair came into this undefeated, but it wasn’t something that Baszler was keen on hearing. There’s a cool spot where Baszler uses Belair’s braid against her, using it like a rope to pull the challenger into the ring post, as Baszler then systematically began to tear apart Belair. That focus on the arm took Belair out of her game, at least until she was called “over-rated”… and here comes the comeback. Belair uses her bad shoulder for tackles on Baszler, but in the end Shayna resists the storm… until Bianca pulls out the hair whip! There’s a ref bump pretty soon after when Belair looked for a Dodon, but Belair’s able to hit a KOD (Burning Hammer) for the visual pin. Out comes reinforcements as Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke try to make the save, but Belair dispatches them summarily, before Baszler caught Belair in a Kirifuda clutch for what looked to be the submission. Except Belair got to her feet and countered the hold into a suplex! From there, Belair has to shrug off more interference as she then hit a 450 splash… only to land into another Kirifuda clutch as Baszler again withstood Belair’s attempts to power out and clung on for the eventual submission. A valiant effort as Belair was shown to be not quite at the top level, but this loss will do her no harm as she’ll be back here to fight another day. ***
Aleister Black vs. Tommaso Ciampa – well, the reports on this match had me fearing for a repeat of the main event of the UK Takeover! The crowd was relatively silent as Black and Ciampa were relatively even early on, but it was Black who was marginally ahead, as he made Ciampa cower away from some kicks. A flip dive from Black saw him seemingly jar his leg on landing, which gave Ciampa something to aim for, which he does as he suplexes Black into the ring steps. Oof. We continue in that same, methodical vein, which barely got the crowd interested but at least Ciampa was crying things up. As was Black, who lands a Black Mass-like kick that turned things around for a spell, at least until Black and Ciampa started to settle down into a more even strike battle that had the Dutchman on the mat. Black’s back with a stomp, but he can’t follow up straight away because of the injured knee, as instead he had to wait before landing a brainbuster. A fortuitous slip on some water outside turns the match back around, as Ciampa headed outside and pulled up the padding outside. Throwbacks to Gargano, eh? It backfires at first as a Meteora off the apron wiped out Ciampa, before a Black Mass back inside would have led to a title change… except Ciampa rolls onto his belly to save himself from being pinned. Black sets up for it a second time, but Ciampa tries to use the ref as a human shield, before a roll-up took Black into the ropes for a draping DDT, as a Fairytale Ending (Angel’s Wings) gets a near-fall. Undeterred, Ciampa hits the Fairytale Ending again, shrugs off another Black Mass, before a fourth Fairytale Ending gets the win. Well, I can see the comparisons to Dunne/Coffey, but this wasn’t anywhere near as excruciating – but man, this crowd didn’t seem to care too much. ***½
All in all, a good Takeover, but this “upper tier” roster is in bad need of a refresh!
RATED: Royal Rumble edition… we didn’t watch this quite as closely, but for those who care…
Cruiserweight Championship: Kalisto vs. Hideo Itami vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Buddy Murphy – a fun outing, but I’m beyond fed up of 205 Live being on the pre-show. Luckily, it wasn’t the pre-show opener, but it’d be nice if they finally left the proverbial kids table! ***½
Becky Lynch vs. Asuka – the result of this conflicted me, especially in light of the next directions. Lynch shouldn’t have won the title if the plan was for her vs. Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, but at the same time taking a loss perhaps wasn’t the best thing for those who fixate over wins and losses. It’s telling how WWE seem to be latching onto the fans here, rather than shunning it because “it’s not what they wanted to do”. It’s funny what competition forces them to do, eh? As for the match, it started slow but got into gear pretty quickly.. .that twister suplex off the apron to the floor could have gone bad, but it ended well with Asuka getting the submission win. It’s almost like they’re trying to rebuild her old aura, but it’s perhaps the wrong time as pretty much the entire women’s division is in Becky’s shadow right now. As witnessed by the focus being on Becky wondering how she’d recompose herself after the loss, rather than “yay, Asuka won!”… ****
The Miz & Shane McMahon vs. The Bar – nope. I’ve next to no interest in this “mismatched” team that started all the way back at the WWE “World Cup tournament”, from that show they’re not allowed to name anymore. All power to Shane for taking some of the bumps he does, but we’re coming up to 20 years since we were all wowed by him doing those things. Let the Attitude Era go and, at the risk of sounding smarky, perhaps use the time and effort on bringing some new blood up? There’s just something about Shane McMahon wrestling in sneakers that are so new the hologram sticker’s still on the sole that irks me… **½
Sasha Banks vs. Ronda Rousey – I’m not keeping up with WWE as much as I used to, but from my eye it sure seemed like Sasha was a “plug the gaps” contender with a decent-ish set of promos to fill around it. Part of the issue is perhaps that nobody truly saw Sasha winning here, in the same vein that you’re not going to see Brock Lesnar lose a match that wasn’t massively hyped as they’re both stars on different levels from most of the roster. I liked how Sasha tried by hook or by crook to win, including using part of her wrist strapping to try and wrench back in a Bank Statement, only for Rousey to escape and finish off Sasha with what I can only describe as a bridging fireman’s carry. Good, but it felt very much like a placeholder in a week where Rousey’s WWE future was questioned. ***
Women’s Royal Rumble: I love me a good Rumble… this wasn’t one of them though. The concern when the first women’s Rumble was announced last year was that a lot of inexperience would shine through. There were surprise entrants for folks from NXT like Io Shirai, Candice LeRae, Xia Li, Rhea Ripley, Kairi Sane and Kacy Catanzaro, but there was no room for legends, having already played that card at last year’s Rumble and the Evolution event. Natalya and Lacey Evans started out… and went pretty deep into the Rumble too, although Natalya did have to carry the early part with a lot of inexperience in there in the early going (including Liv Morgan’s blink and you’ll miss it appearance!). Naomi did a cool Kofi Kingston-like elimination escape, but that’s pulled off as it was Kacy Catanzaro whose trickery worked… only for her to get dumped out by Ripley moments later. They seemed to tease a Charlotte/Lacey angle down the line, which could well be a distraction since Becky Lynch won the whole thing, replacing the injured Lana (who couldn’t even make it to the ring before she was substituted) at the end. Yay for backing someone the crowd’s all in on, but this felt like a long slog to get us there! ***
AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan – four title matches in as many months made this a match that felt rather played out… were it not for Bryan’s environmentally-focused promos that apparently made him a bad guy? Oh, and made everyone want those ridiculous stacked-up Rumble Burgers. The problem is, we’re almost three hours into the main show (and five if you count those poor sods who filed in for the pre-show), and so it felt unlikely for us to have a title change when WWE’s establishing a new character for Bryan. The match itself was fine, but a far cry from the dream match that everyone originally pegged these two as having, before the return of Eric Rowan drew unanimous “huh”s from the crowd. Yep, it’s a Wyatt Family reunion, as Bryan got the win after Rowan used a claw chokeslam… more commonly seen from the Great O-Kharn. Huh. Huh. and indeed, huh. ***
Finn Balor vs. Brock Lesnar – well, this wasn’t originally meant to be Balor, but “plans change” and we get this David vs. Goliath outing. Balor manages to catch a break when he shoves Lesnar into the edge of the announce table, meaning we had an uncomfortable (for Brock) encounter between the table and his groin. The incident meant that Brock couldn’t go hell for leather in throwing Balor around, as he kept pulling away with his pulled groin… which the crowd seemed to have trouble parsing. Balor tried to capitalise with a DDT before he stomped away on Lesnar’s midsection. A dive nearly goes south as Balor landed a few topes con giro to Lesnar on the outside, before he returned to the ring for the Coup de Grace, which landed as badly as it could have for Brock… but he kicked out and caught Balor in a Kimura instantly for the eventual submission. I loved this sprint – it did nothing to hurt Balor, and showed that Brock isn’t invincible afterall! ****¼
Men’s Royal Rumble: well, this was a wide open field, theoretically, but it probably wasn’t so open that Elias would win it. Yay, we get a singing bit at the start, and this time my yays are sarcastic. He’s interrupted by the number two entrant… Country Music Jeff Jarrett?! Well, surprises are usually in the middle of the field, but I guess this is the way to do it without bringing the match to a screeching halt. At least the crowd played along with the Double J bit, until Elias decked him with a punch before Jeff showed us how to throw punches! El Kabong from Elias puts an end to it though, as Jarrett gets tossed out easily. Ah well.Surprises came in the form of Kurt Angle (I guess), Pete Dunne, Aleister Black, Johnny Gargano and… Nia Jax?! Curt Hawkins gets into the match too, but he’s playing stick and move to avoid getting thrown out… although he did eliminate Titus O’Neil, who managed to not slip this time, before Samoa Joe dumped out Hawkins. Ah well, short and sweet and all that! Mustafa Ali eliminated Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura, which may indicate something if WWE still built programs out of random Rumble eliminations… Kofi’s annual Rumble escape saw him roll upside down around the apron to prevent both feet hitting the floor before No Way Jose got the Santino Marella treatment – clotheslined out as his conga line hadn’t even began to do a lap around the ring. Ah well. For me, this showcased how much of a malaise there is in the men’s roster, with years of stop-start booking and general lack of faith in their roster meaning that we had a match that anyone could win… because there wasn’t even teases of logical main events. Nia Jax has a cameo as WWE gave us a rare spot of intergender wrestling, eliminating Mustafa Ali before Rey Mysterio eliminated her. Swings, and roundabouts, eh? In the end, Braun Strowman looked to get the win, but he played Big Show to Seth Rollins’ Chris Benoit as the “Kingslayer” won the Rumble… and presumably a shot to be the latest one to dethrone Brock Lesnar? This was fine, but my lack of interest in the main roster was exemplified in this one match. ***¼
NEWS: Pro Wrestling NOAH has been sold to a company called LIDET Entertainment. They’ve announced that the company will be given a new look in March, complete with a new logo and a colour scheme – moving away from the emerald green that has been NOAH’s calling card for their entire life. Apparently the new owners feel like the colours associated with the late Mitsuharu Misawa is casting a shadow over them… if that’s the case, then why not just give the company a new name a la Impact??
ICYMI: EVE’s made a bunch of talent announcement for their upcoming shows… Pure-J’s Leon will be appearing on their shows on March 8 and 9. Until just before Christmas, Leon was one half of the Daily Sports tag team champions, alongside Command Bolshoi. Britt Baker will also be debuting on those shows, answering a challenge laid out by Charli Evans last month. We’d already covered how Mercedes Martinez and Mary Apache will be debuting on the sold-out Global Women Strike 2 show next weekend… a card that’s headlined by Nina Samuels defending her EVE title against Emi Sakura.
UPCOMING: wXw released the full-ish card for Dead End in Hamburg in two weeks’ time. The main event is a tag match as the former A4 – Absolute Andy & Marius al-Ani – face Bobby Gunns and Ilja Dragunov, with the implication being that if Marius’ team wins, he’ll face Andy for the title at 16 Carat Gold, while if Bobby’s team wins, we’ll have Gunns/Andy for the belt (with Ilja, of course, having already had his final shot…); elsewhere, it’s Lucky Kid vs. Da Mack (allowed to wrestle in Hamburg again); WALTER vs. Veit Müller; RISE (Ivan Kiev & Pete Bouncer) defending the tag team titles vs. Jay-FK; Jurn Simmons & Timothy Thatcher vs. Avalanche & David Starr; and a non-title women’s three-way between Toni Storm, Killer Kelly and the debuting Faye Jackson. Tickets for the show at the Markthalle on February 15 are still on sale if you want to make the trip!