Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. With the world in lockdown, wrestling has quite rightly taken a backseat. WWE and AEW are still putting on episodes of Raw, Smackdown, NXT, and Dynamite respectively from closed sets, but smaller and independent promotions, as well as a few global behemoths, are on an indefinite hiatus. Frankly, wrestling is far from an important concern right now with thousands of people around the world sick or dying, and there are certainly strong arguments to be made that WWE and AEW shouldn’t continue producing live television. However, rather than focus on the negatives, because sometimes those factors can be overwhelming for all of us at the moment, let’s look at reasons to be cheerful about wrestling, now and in the future. There is plenty to look forward to, and be positive about.
NJPW coming back
New Japan Pro Wrestling has been impacted harder than most wrestling organisations of their size. With Asia hit hard and early by Covid-19, New Japan has been out of action for months now, essentially curtailing the glorious reign of Tetsuya Naito as both IWGP Heavyweight champion and Intercontinental champion after New Beginning. It robbed us of his match with Hiromu Takahashi at the anniversary show, and whatever was planned for after that. However, NJPW has been putting out lots of content on New Japan World, including talk shows and interviews, as well as documentaries and old matches with new English commentary included. They have paid off all their staff for their time in isolation and tried to help look after other smaller companies who might not have such resources at hand. Hiroshi Tanahashi even led a delegation of officials from a number of companies to the Japanese government to discuss how professional wrestling might be re-introduced after the end of the current situation. Some offices have dipped their toes in the water, but most shows are off.
So why is this something to be cheerful about? Well, New Japan are doing all the right things and in some respects this break can be a positive. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and in the case of NJPW that could not be truer. In addition, they have built up an enormous amount of goodwill from fans who understand that they have taken the difficult decision to cease operations while a global pandemic continues to rage. When they return, it will be triumphant, and everyone will be happy to see the promotion resume shows. In addition, with WWE releasing a number of talents there are some possible new recruits that will be available to help bolster and refresh the roster, while this can also act as a reboot for all feuds and programmes that were planned and clean slate in booking terms. NJPW have not taken the easiest route, but they will be rewarded for taking the harder road, and fans will undoubtedly be the beneficiary of some fantastic shows, as only NJPW can provide.
AEW crowning a secondary champion
While AEW shows have been pretty uneventful for obvious reasons in recent weeks, the one bright spot has been the tournament to crown their inaugural secondary champion, with the awkwardly names TNT Championship. Beyond the name, the rules of the title and how it will work seem to be a bit lacking, although one could presume it will be defended primarily on television given the network is within the title’s moniker. The matches have been excellent thus far, and have provided a much needed focal point for the programme each week. While Cody and Lance Archer making the finals seems predictable, it provides an extra layer for their feud to unfold at Double or Nothing and that in itself will create more interest in the bout itself, and the title. Personally I would have preferred Darby Allin get the nod, as he seems to be building quite a lot fo momentum but his continued inability to beat Cody seems to be growing as a bubbling storyline of it's own so we'll have to watch and see how that develops.
In broader terms, this feels like a smart move by AEW, albeit in less than ideal circumstances. Putting the title on Cody seems a logical decision given he can’t contest the AEW World Heavyweight championship and it will allow him to shine in this position until the company resolve how Cody will eventually end up back in the main title picture. Having a focus for lower and mid-card competitors to focus on creates a reason for them to be fighting rather than hopelessly moving up and down the rankings attempting to get into contention for the main strap. It adds depth to the storytelling on the roster. Yes, titles are props, but they are necessary ones and having an extra goal gives more legitimacy and more weight to the importance of undercard matches which can only be a good thing.
WWE trying to make new stars
While WWE putting on shows in an empty arena (much like AEW) has been rightly criticised, it has to be said that the personnel involved with putting together the shows are certainly doing their best to try and make new stars and give a shine to performers who otherwise might not have gotten a chance on Raw or Smackdown. Apollo Crews, Austin Theory, Angel Garza, Ever Rise, Shane Thorne and several others have all managed to go from NXT performers or non-featured workers to having prominent roles on television. It’s genuinely something that WWE should be praised for (I know, I know) and also for those performers for stepping up and making the most of the opportunities given to them in terrible circumstances. I just hope when things go back to normal and there are audiences allowed back into WWE events that the risks and sacrifices of these performers is not forgotten and they continue to be featured members of the WWE roster week-to-week.
MITB - cinematic style
One thing I am looking forward to in the coming weeks is the absolutely insane concept for Money in the Bank this year. The idea of having a ladder match where the competitors start on the ground floor of the WWE corporate headquarters and have to make it to the roof to climb a ladder to get the briefcase is utterly bonkers and I love it. It sounds like something straight out of DDT rather than WWE, but in the current circumstances it’s the best option available to them. On the women’s side of things, I would imagine Asuka, Shayna Baszler, and Nia Jax are the frontrunners, while for the men Daniel Bryan, Aleister Black, or whoever is replacing the “injured” Apollo Crews seem like the most obvious options. However, I have many questions about how this will all work. Will the matches be happening at the same time? Will there be a ring on the roof or just the briefcases? Will these matches be filmed (well they technically already have) like a regular WWE bout, or will they be presented like a mini-movie in the way the Boneyard match and Firefly Funhouse matches were at Wrestlemania. I am very intrigued and I look forward to seeing how this all pans out.
Things will get better, but not necessarily back to normal
In time, wrestling will return, as will the audiences that are currently being shut out. However, much like everything else, I can’t help but wonder what form this return will take. Will social distancing mean that shows have a reduced capacity in order to keep fans two metres apart? Will fans have their temperatures tested at shows? It’s a whole new world of what might be required and we can only speculate on that for now, but while the uncertainty is a reason for anxiety in many quarters, there is an opportunity for promotions to take a more sensible, fresh approach in order to make shows as enjoyable as possible. In addition, hopefully fans who have perhaps in the past taken wrestling for granted and spent time focusing on detracting attention form what is going on in the ring, will appreciate what they have and this will in turn make for a happier, more inclusive, more enjoyable atmosphere at shows of all sizes. We can only hope.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with any big news from Raw and Smackdown, NXT, AEW Dynamite, and probably some more general thoughts, as well as touching on any major stories that might break in the next week. In the meantime, keep it locked here at Screenjabber for all the best movie, Blu-ray, DVD and video game reviews, as well as all the latest news, podcasts and more. Until next time, so long folks.
All images courtesy of WWE/AEW/NJPW