Welcome to this week's edition of Slammer Jabber. While there is plenty of news to go around in the world of wrestling this week, given the events that have unfolded around the tragic, needless death of George Floyd, the spark that has been lit for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as all the protests and general upheaval (albeit a necessary and long overdue challenge to the wholly unacceptable status quo in terms of racial inequality) going on, professional wrestling seems a little less important this week. In truth, I have struggled to feel the motivation to write an enthusiastic round-up this week. The world is hurting, and things need to change, and if you are reading this and you feel differently, or you feel the need to pipe up with "All Lives Matter" or some such similar tripe, please stop reading. This is not the column for you, and I would rather you go and read something else.
That said. while I couldn't bring myself to pretend that all is right with the world, I did want to put out something this week. As such, with 2020 continuing along the darkest timeline, I thought it might be a good opportunity to have a look back at what I predicted at the end of last year, and how that has panned out. Spoiler alert, quite a lot of my predictions were miles off, obviously. Anyway, let's have a look back at what I thought 2020 might look like, just a few short months ago.
One of the most anticipated events of the year is always the Royal Rumble. Who will show up in the match? Returns, legends, shocks and a clear idea of the Wrestlemania picture are all a part of the Rumble experience.
For me, there are multiple potential winners who could and may very well win the men’s rumble match. Roman Reigns seems like the obvious answer if the idea is for ”The Fiend” Bray Wyatt to continue to dominate the Universal title picture until Mania. WWE have arguably fumbled Reigns this year given he was coming back from beating cancer, but all is not lost and there is definitely a story to be told about Reigns regaining the title he never actually lost. Equally, with Seth Rollins now flanked by AoP on Raw and potentially in line for a shot at Brock Lesnar and the WWE title, I could certainly see Rollins picking up the win over “The Beast” and Reigns facing him at Mania given they have largely been kept apart and have a whole boatload of history. Then there’s Daniel Bryan to figure into things as the top babyface on Smackdown. He could just as easily win big at the Rumble.
Then there is the surprise element to consider. Could there be a shocking surprise winner? It feels like a while since WWE had a shocking, surprise entrant that went on to win the rumble. Could it be CM Punk? Unlikely, he seems very content with his involvement on WWE Backstage but I don’t get the impression that he wants an in-ring return at this stage. Edge? Rumours have done the rounds that the “R-Rated Superstar” had been cleared to return to the ring, which was fuelled further by his reported trips to Pittsburgh (where WWE medical is based) and signing of a new WWE contract. However, Edge has refuted these rumours on social media, so who can say. Perhaps a John Cena win and return would be more likely? But is he too busy with his Hollywood career for an in-ring return? Could an NXT superstar perhaps get a big win? I certainly wouldn’t rule it out at this stage with WWE attempting to portray NXT as the equal of Raw and Smackdown. If I were to speculate I would suggest Velveteen Dream could be the man to take on that role given his lack of appearances on NXT TV in the past few months.
The women's match perhaps seems a bit more straightforward, and I would make Shayna Baszler the odds-on-favourite to win. I can't see who else is there to challenge Becky Lynch and it already has a back story built-in with the Ronda Rousey factor. While Asuka, Sasha Banks, Charlotte and a few others are in the mix, Baszler seems like the obvious choice.
Whatever the case, the events that transpire at Royal Rumble will have a major impact on what WWE do on April 5th.
Was it correct?:
The Royal Rumble is one of the few predictions on this list that was fulfilled before the widespread onset of Covid-19. The 2020 event was one of the better editions of the yearly event in recent memory. Although the return of Edge was something I mentioned, Drew McIntyre was nowhere to be seen on my radar and the rumble was a huge, star-making turn from the big Scotsman. I had Shayna Baszler as my favourite for the women's rumble, and although she did look primed to take the big win, Charlotte Flair would pip her at the last minute. Baszler still got her big Wrestlemania match though, which suggests that perhaps she was pencilled in for the win at some stage.
As already mentioned, it’s very hard to gauge who will be facing off in the main event at Wrestlemania this far out, but I feel like I can take a few guesses based on what has gone on thus far. Roman Reigns seems destined to be the man chosen to finally end the reign of The Fiend, which would be a logical move as he certainly seems poised for a return to the WWE title picture. That would feel like a worthy main event if it’s booked correctly and there are no tasteless short cuts taken surrounding Reigns’ battle with leukaemia. Another option could be Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins which would again make for a decent main event, even if it they did have a match on TV only a few weeks ago in the run-up to Survivor Series.
One match that I do see happening at Wrestlemania is Tyson Fury vs Brock Lesnar. Fury seemed to enjoy his run against Braun Strowman in the autumn and if Fury beats Deontay Wilder it would be an even bigger match-up if he were to take on the former UFC and WWE heavyweight champion. It feels like a potentially big box office attraction and a good way to bring fresh eyes to the WWE product. Should Fury not come on board for Mania, I suspect the company will opt to do a rubber match of sorts between Cain Velasquez and Lesnar as a way to try and do something similar as a marquee bout.
Further down the card, I expect Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio, Baron Corbin, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Rey Mysterio, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Andrade, Sasha Banks and Bayley to be involved in major programmes, and that’s not even including the NXT brand potentially being involved. One thing is for sure, Wrestlemania 36 will almost certainly be the longest Mania to date.
Was it correct?
Nope! Now obviously Wrestlemania plans were massively disrupted by Covid-19, and the event was relocated to from the Raymond James Stadium to the WWE Performance Center. This, of course, had a huge knock-on to the independent scene on one of the biggest weekends in the wrestling calendar, which will have had a major impact on the companies futures, especially as wrestling outside of WWE and AEW is basically on hold for now. Drew McIntyre beating Brock Lesnar was not unexpected, but the lack of Cain Velasquez (since released by WWE) Tyson Fury, even in terms of plans before everything went sideways was a surprise. Still, we got Rob Gronkowski. Yep.
The Boneyard Match and the Firefly Funhouse match were both borne out of the situation and proved major highlights. Having the event over two nights was in many respects a breath of fresh air compared to the mammoth marathon show that Wrestlemania often becomes and I'm hoping WWE take note of that over the coming years when it comes to booking the yearly extravaganza. Wrestlemania this year was bizarre, and it will certainly live on as the most unique and memorable events in wrestling history, even if it wasn't by design.
AEW in 2020
Moving away from WWE, AEW will look to build on their first year of successes and continue to grow their brand. The big question for me is who will unseat Chris Jericho as the AEW Champion. Despite the help of The Inner Circle, his reign has to inevitably come to an end and there are a variety of candidates to topple “Le Champion”. Jon Moxley seems primed to rip the belt away, but given they look to be facing off at AEW Revolution in February that strikes me as a tad too soon. Cody is prevented from challenging for the title, but as the most over babyface in the company I could see them finding a way to circumvent that in order to give him another shot against Jericho. Luchasaurus could be an outside bet as they seem to be slowly building him up, while Kenny Omega will always be a realistic candidate for world champion. For me, Hangman Page seems the most likely successor to Jericho, perhaps at All Out in August, a year on from his loss having gained experience and learnt lessons along the way.
Outside of the main title picture, it’s hard to see AEW not introducing a secondary singles title. There is a plethora of mid-card talents in the mix and having them continue to wrestle without a realistic prize as stepping stone to the main event picture seems ill-advised. Darby Allin would be a strong choice, as would the likes of MJF and perhaps even Cody if the stipulation surrounding his world title ambitions is adhered to. There are a variety of scenarios available to crown a new mid-card champion and a tournament would likely create extra intrigue that might reflect well in the ratings. It also gives matches a reason to happen rather than simply for the sake of it, and as we saw with the tag title tournament, it makes for compelling television. There is even scope to have some tag team wrestlers use the new title as a way to break out and have a singles run, be it a Trent Baretta, Pentagon, Fenix, Scorpio Sky or even Jungle Boy.
Finally, I'm hoping for some improvements in the women's division. Riho does not work as champion for me, and with Hikaru Shida, Kris Statlander, Jamie Hayter, Big Swole and countless other top-level performers in their ranks I can't see why they are continuing with a champion who hasn't really connected from my perspective. That could be a booking issue, or presentation, but if they are to move forward with Riho I would like to see her showcased better and given more character development than what we have seen so far.
2020 will almost certainly be a year of consolidation and further growth for AEW. They are still an emerging product and the next year will be crucial in ironing out the kinks in their presentation as they push forward to continue providing a viable and successful alternative to WWE.
Was it correct?
Not massively. Chris Jericho lost the AEW Championship to Jon Moxley at Revolution, which seemed like the right move in terms of capitalising on Moxley's momentum, but I still would have preferred to keep the title on "Le Champion" for a while longer. That said, Jeriicho has continued to shine in his work alongside The Inner Circle, and while he elevated the titkle, he doesn't necessarily need it to be a legitimate main eventer.
AEW have indeed introduced a secondary title, and predictably Cody Rhodes won the belt beating Lance Archer in the final of the tournament. It's a savvy move while they are still upholding the stipulation of Cody being unable to challenge and much like John Cena's similar effort in WWE a few years back for the US Title, this sets up a whole load of interesting opportunities for surprise opponents week-to-week as well as lots of possible openings for mid-card wrestlers to elevate themselves, even in defeat to Cody.
For the women's division. Riho was predictably ousted, but unfortunately Nyla Rose didn't quite click in this role either. Hopefully rebooting things with Hikaru Shida will see the division thrive in the coming months.
It hasn't quite been the second year of consolidation that AEW probably wanted, but like everyone Covid-19 hit them hard, and they have done everything in their power to continue putting out a strong product in the circumstances.
Week after week NWA Powerrr has been a highlight, blending a mixture of old-school wrestling and compelling characters to create and engrossing product. Into the Fire was an excellent PPV offering and despite the Jim Cornette debacle, NWA seems poised to continue to fortify it’s momentum as we approach a new decade. As we close the year out, Nick Aldis is the reigning NWA Champion having recently turned heel and aligned with Wild Card and his insurance policy, Kamille. So what is next for NWA in 2020? I would expect Aldis to drop the title at some stage and presumably to a babyface. Could that be Tim Storm? Perhaps. The ageing veteran lost the belt to Aldis and it seems as though there has been a slow-building story brewing for Storm to get one last run with the “Ten Pounds of Gold”. Eli Drake feels as though he is gaining traction and he could be one to watch in 2020. James Storm is another possible option. However, I also expect Question Mark to have a shot at Aldis too, even if he will likely be unsuccessful. Regardless, NWA seem to be on an upward trajectory and I am hopeful they will have a big twelve months ahead.
Was it correct?
Again, not at all. Things looked very bright for NWA as 2020 got underway and they were building to Nick Aldis vs Marty Scurll at the Crockett Cup, but Coronavirus put paid to that. NWA suspended all operations, and I'm not sure what that means for their future, but I certainly hope they can recover form this as Powerrr was easily the best wrestling TV show going before the whole world was put on hold.
Finally, we move on to New Japan Pro Wrestling, who have a huge start to the year on January 4th and 5th with Wrestle Kingdom expanding to two nights at the Tokyo Dome. It’ll be interesting to see how those shows are paced out and whether the two-night split ends up burning out the audience or if it’ll create less saturation than the average marathon January 4th show does. The main event picture is a little unclear with Kota Ibushi challenging IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito challenging “Switchblade” Jay White for the Intercontinental strap both on night one, and the winners meeting on night two to crown a double champion. If I were a betting man, I would suspect Naito is the one who is most likely the beneficiary of this, having started the whole “double champion” rhetoric and the story of his difficulties with Okada at Wrestle Kingdom over the years make for a satisfying conclusion to a long, overarching storyline over several years. However, Ibushi could also walk away as double champion, and I wouldn’t even put it beyond Gedo to have Okada as the face of the company walk away with both belts. Jay White is a dark horse, but I find it difficult to see him getting the big win here as it feels like a babyface should end up on top and as the only true heel of the four, White seems less likely. It’ll certainly be intriguing viewing.
Beyond Wrestle Kingdom, NJPW are continuing with their expansion plans in 2020. Dominion much like Wrestle Kingdom will be a two-night event in June at Osaka Jo Hall, while they will continue to expand internationally. It’ll be fascinating to see how the newly formed New Japan Pro Wrestling of America shapes up in 2020 and whether they will continue their relationship with ROH and AAA. Harold Meij has been open about the possibility of working with other partners at some stage, and I wonder if AEW and NJPW could strike up some sort of strategic partnership given they already have some reluctant talent sharing in place with Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley. If NJPW wants to expand successfully I can see 2020 being the start of that ramping up, hopefully with some more UK shows after the success of Royal Quest in London this past August.
Was it correct?
Yes and no. In terms of Wrestle Kingdom, Tetsuya Naito getting both belts was the outcome I most favoured and that did happen in a great moment, although his celebration was interrupted by KENTA to nuclear heat setting up their match at New Beginning which Naito won. However, NJPW were, like NWA, forced to suspend operations and while they have fared well in terms of putting out content on NJPW World, they are still awaiting the go-ahead to start putting on shows. However, with Japan seemingly on the path to recovery it may not be long before we see a return from the King of Sports. As for a future partnership with AEW, the whole wrestling landscape is in a state of flux, so anything is possible. The rest of 2020 will likely be very interesting and that possible alliance might be one to keep an eye out for.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at NXT Takeover: In Your House, as well as all the WWE and AEW TV and anything big that breaks in the meantime. Until then, 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.
Images courtesy of WWE/AEW//Lee South/NWA/NJPW