SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Blockbuster Jericho-Tanahashi Match Slated for Wrestle Kingdom
Chris Jericho is scheduled to face Hiroshi Tanahashi at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 14 on January 4 at the Tokyo Dome, multiple sources tell Sports Illustrated.
Jericho, who is All Elite Wrestling’s world champion, is signed to a full-time contract with AEW. New Japan and AEW do not currently have a working agreement, though Jericho and Jon Moxley each have language written into their deals that allow the flexibility to still work New Japan shows. In Jericho’s case, his agent, Barry Bloom, did a masterful job orchestrating a contract that allowed his client to work shows in Japan.
An interesting element to the match will be if Jericho is still AEW champ by the time of Wrestle Kingdom.
If that is the case, will he wear the belt to the ring? And will NJPW acknowledge his position atop AEW? Whether acknowledged or not, Jericho’s position in AEW as champion would impact the match’s outcome. Losing cleanly to Tanahashi would be a bad look for AEW, and the best way for Jericho to protect himself as champ while still providing a satisfying finish would be by using underhanded tactics to win.
Jericho lost to IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada in June in the main event of NJPW’s “Dominion” show in Osaka, which was his last New Japan appearance. This match will be significantly different if Jericho enters as AEW champ, especially considering Tanahashi—though certainly a legend in the business—currently holds no title.
The storyline between Jericho and Tanahashi ignited at Dominion, following Jericho’s post-match beatdown of Okada. Tanahashi jumped in to make the save, preventing Jericho from powerbombing Okada through a table.
New Japan will make the announcement of the match, likely serving as the co-main event to Okada-Kota Ibushi in the IWGP Heavyweight title match, in the coming months.
Jericho’s presence has repeatedly been a box office success for New Japan, both in ticket sales and publicity. A meeting between the two legends is a marquee matchup, and provides Tanahashi a high-profile encounter befitting his status as the company’s longtime ace.
Jon Moxley is also scheduled to work Wrestle Kingdom 14, where he will defend his IWGP United States title, likely against Juice Robinson. Moxley is also signed to a full-time deal with AEW, but, like Jericho, has a deal with New Japan that allows him to work their shows in Japan. His current deal with New Japan runs through Wrestle Kingdom.
Jericho and Moxley will serve as New Japan’s two mainstream North American stars for their biggest pay-per-view of the year, expanding the company’s reach and likely leading to a bigger profit in ticket sales and New Japan World subscriptions.
AEW Set to Make Debut, Triple H Ready for Competition
With NXT and AEW beginning the “Wednesday Night Wars”, a battle now ensues for ratings supremacy and Twitter trends.
AEW exists as less an alternative to WWE and more of a potential answer to its problems. AEW expects to succeed in the areas that have disappointed the fanbase WWE has cultivated over the past two decades. A lack of storyline continuity, character development, and avoiding a hyper-focus on only a select few stars should stand out as areas where AEW shines, though those highlights may be less noticeable when going against NXT.
NXT has a variety of styles and is extremely well positioned to compete, and potentially even defeat, AEW in a weekly ratings battle.
Paul “Triple H” Levesque oversees NXT, which is loaded with roster depth, and stressed the versatility of his product.
“We don’t just say we’re going to put on different kinds of matches,” said Levesque. “With us, you have a joint manipulator and a submission specialist in Shayna Baszler. There is Io Shirai, who does unbelievable work in every way, character bases like Candice [LeRae] and Velveteen [Dream], and work rate guys like Adam Cole and Tommaso Ciampa. We have an MMA guy in Matt Riddle, plus big guys bringing the fight like [Dominik] Dijakovic and Keith Lee. That variety of styles and combination of characters has been a key building block for us.”
AEW benefits from the fact it is a brand-new product. People will be interested in watching to see the presentation. Will we see records and stats? Or more of a traditional pro wresting feel? What will the on-screen graphics look like, and will the win-loss record be a driving point of the commentary following every match?
Surprises aren’t simply for the new parts of AEW, but also for the old. The weekly broadcast will reunite Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone, who have not called a show together in over 25 years.
AEW benefits from presenting an “Us Against Them” mentality toward WWE, but NXT’s entry into live television on Wednesday nights adds an entirely new element to the newest competition in pro wrestling.
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
• I was not a fan of the new Rusev-Lana-Bobby Lashley storyline that closed out Raw this past Monday, but there is no doubt I will be watching to see what happens next.
• Rey Mysterio’s son Dominick proved a point this past Monday: He sure can take a bump, even from Brock Lesnar.
• WWE has built a highly anticipated premiere for this Friday’s SmackDown on Fox, which includes a return from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
• Despite a massive delay before its Saturday show in New York City, New Japan put on a tremendous show at the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom—proving again that the consistently best, most focused in-ring product resides in New Japan.
• Even The Wall Street Journal is getting in on covering the wrasslin’ business.
• More good news for wrestling fans: Busted Open has moved to six days a week.
• The NWA is bringing a different presence to wrestling with its studio-based tapings—at a time when fans are flooded with options, it is certainly good to offer an interesting alternative.
• “Come to think of it, you’ve always been interested in s---”—the story of Roppongi 3K’s Yoh and his bathroom-inspired art exhibit.
• Rush is the new Ring of Honor champion, and his cold dismissal from CMLL, as well as his future, will be covered soon on SI.com.
Beyond Wrestling Welcomes Lance Archer for Season 2 Premiere of ‘Uncharted Territory’
Beyond Wrestling’s weekly online Uncharted Territory show returns Thursday night, and features a match with New Japan star Lance Archer.
Beyond’s show took a planned sabbatical following a phenomenal opening season, so the kickoff of its second season is in some ways more meaningful than WWE’s season premiere of Raw on Monday, as Vince McMahon’s signature show never had a break in action.
Archer submitted a breakout performance this past summer during New Japan’s vaunted G1 Climax tournament, delivering outstanding, memorable matches with Will Ospreay, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Kota Ibushi.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be in the business for 19 years, and this is the best opportunity I’ve had to do something special in a singles situation,” said Archer, who worked for TNA for five years, WWE for two, and the last eight with New Japan—but is now at a point in his career where he has never been better. “This business has gotten smaller and more athletic, so the big guy has become an odd commodity, so stand toe-to-toe with Ospreay, who is one of the best wrestlers in the world, shows how I’ve changed, adapted, and moving forward in wrestling.”
Archer will wrestle EVOLVE star Josh Briggs in a battle pitting one of wrestling’s most talented bigs against a rising star also known for his size.
“You don’t get to see too many 6’6” guys standing across the ring from each other,” said Archer. “But our styles are very different. Mine is hardcore, straightforward, punch you in the mouth and make you bleed. That is what Josh is going to have to contend with this Thursday at Beyond. You’ll see two very large gentlemen with two very different, amazing styles. It’s going to be fun, but more so for me, since I’m going to win this match.”
A longtime member of the Killer Elite Squad tag team with Davey Boy Smith Jr., Archer has redefined himself as a versatile, powerful big man. He has no ceiling, and the potential for gold is a distinct possibility in his future at New Japan.
“In this business, you adapt or die,” said Archer. “I’ve always looked up to The Undertaker. He’s been around forever and ever, and he’s adapted time and time again. The Undertaker has kept himself fresh through different generations, and everyone still pays attention when he’s back because people want to see what he’s going to do and how he’s going to do it.
“That’s my goal: change people’s minds and perceptions to what you thought I was. From my TNA days, to my short, failed stint in WWE, even to those who followed me in independent days, I’m different now. I’m going to keep moving forward and continue changing people’s minds. I worked the New Japan east coast tour this past weekend, and so many people were very complimentary. I kept hearing, ‘I’ve been watching New Japan for years, but this is the first time I’ve seen you.’ I’ve been with New Japan for eight years, but I’m now capturing people’s attention. That’s something I’m going to keep doing.”
In an era where it is almost a stigma to be a big man in pro wrestling, as size is certainly not associated with ability, Archer’s rejuvenation is one of the best comeback stories in all of wrestling.
“I’m going to leave my mark,” said Archer. “I’m planning on tearing it up, changing it up, and being something fresh, new, and cool in this business.”
Tweet of the Week
CM Punk’s lawsuit with Colt Cabana has been settled out of court. Will Punk’s next step be a return to WWE?