WWE saw some major changes to its Elimination Chamber 2021 match card, AEW is embracing that death match life, NXT feels reborn and an indie match showed out as one of the young year's best; these are the 10 most interesting stories in pro wrestling for the week, courtesy of SK Wrestling Senior Editor Andrea Hangst
1. TakeOver: Vengeance Day sees WWE NXT go back to its roots
For the better part of the past year, NXT TakeOver events have felt a little off. Part of that was, of course, adapting to wrestling in a crowd-less arena or in front of a small crowd and the other various challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented to pro wrestling. But it also seemed like WWE's NXT arm had strayed from its roots, strayed away from being the purer wrestling arm of WWE and incorporating more and more of a sports entertainment style in the mix.
However, NXT appears to have course-corrected with its most recent TakeOver event, Vengeance Day. This tight card featuring five matches — three for titles, two to crown the men’s and women’s winners of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic — focused almost solely on in-ring action and high-caliber performances. No championships changed hands, but no matter; everything that happened was compelling and, for the most part, consequential. This was the WWE NXT that made its fans fall in love in the first place, and hopefully it’s a sign that TakeOvers will be back to can’t-miss status in 2021.
2. Speaking of high-caliber WWE NXT TakeOver performances …
The tag team MSK (Wes Lee and Nash Carter) make their WWE NXT debut in the first round of the men’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament and immediately made their marks, reaching the finals at TakeOver: Vengeance Day to face Grizzled Young Veterans. But even more impressively, MSK won, making them the new No. 1 contenders for the NXT Tag Team Championship and proving that the former Rascalz are the real deal.
The high-flying, the speed, the finesse and the well-established chemistry of Lee and Carter make them instantly the most exciting team in NXT or WWE as a whole. That they are getting such a massive push out of the gate proves that WWE and NXT management have full confidence in the relative newcomers. MSK arguably stole the show on Sunday and now it’s clear we’re going to be seeing quite a lot of them in the future.
3. Major WWE storyline change
WWE has been building up the rivalry between Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans for weeks on Monday Night RAW, seemingly leading to a clash at WrestleMania, with Ric Flair’s alliance with Evans at the center of the story. However, plans will have to change, with Evans announcing her real-life pregnancy on this week’s edition of WWE RAW.
While it seemed a bit questionable to add the kayfabe element of it possibly being Ric Flair’s child to the story, Evans is indeed having another baby and will be off of WWE programming for the foreseeable future. On the one hand, that stops this cringeworthy storyline right in its tracks. But on the other, it may force WWE to go to the predictable, Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair, route either at Elimination Chamber on Sunday or at WrestleMania. Hopefully, it instead results in a new, more creative solution to this speed bump on the road to April’s major event.
4. The Iron Match makes strong argument for early Match of the Year contender
Also on Sunday, Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Beyond Wrestling teamed up at the H20 Wrestling Center to present The Iron Match, pitting Trish Adora against Tony Deppen in a 60-minute instant classic. Streamed on Beyond’s YouTube Channel, the no-fans, closed set match was compelling from start to finish.
Adora and Deppen were well-matched competitors and unleashed practically everything in their arsenals, trying to wear each other down with strikes, coordinated submission attacks and, at times, sheer brutality. The match had zero falls until the final 10 minutes, when Adora scored the first. Deppen followed it up quickly, and it seemed that maybe a draw was looming until Adora scored her second and final pinball by a quick rollup with literally two seconds to go in the match.
Some fans may balk at intergender wrestling, or find Iron Man matches dull. This, however, had everything a wrestling fan could want. The year is young, to be sure, but Adora and Deppen’s performance is easily going to hold up as one of 2021’s very best.
5. AEW Women’s World Championship tournament’s Round 1 Japan bracket is must-see
On Monday, AEW premiered the first round of its Women’s Championship Eliminator Tournament’s Japanese bracket on YouTube. The four matches, all called solo by Excalibur, was a great introduction to some of Japan’s best women’s wrestlers, some of whom the general AEW-watching public aren’t all that familiar with.
Yuka Sakazaki defeated Mei Suruga, Emi Sakura defeated Very, Ryo Mizunami bested Maki Itoh and joshi legend Aja Kong defeated Rin Kadokura on the night. But the results themselves don’t do the night’s action justice. The sparse production allowed the in-ring work to shine, and Excalibur’s excellent level of preparation and knowledge left viewers having an understanding of and connection with all eight wrestlers.
It was some of the finest work AEW has done in its women’s division thus far, with Serena Deeb falling to Riho on AEW Dynamite a worthy follow-up on Wednesday. Check out the Round 1 Japanese bracket matches before next Monday’s semifinal round. It’s really that good.
6. WWE NXT: More like the Disputed Era
Following Kyle O’Reilly showing concern for Finn Balor after retaining his NXT Championship against Pete Dunne at TakeOver: Vengeance Day was yet another superkick heard around the world, with Undisputed Era head Adam Cole taking out his stablemate. Roderick Strong was spared, but that hasn’t be comforting for either Strong nor O’Reilly.
No one in the group, which spent years dominating the entire WWE NXT roster at various times, trusts each other. They all want Balor’s gold. Nobody has revealed their intentions or motivations. And it’s clear, after what we saw to end this week’s edition of NXT, that at the very least, O’Reilly and Cole are on a collision course. O’Reilly was stretchered out (in kayfabe) after Cole suplexed him on the steel ring steps, exponentially increasing the tension.
Where does Strong (and Bobby Fish, noticeably absent) stand after Cole’s second, vicious attack?
7. The Forbidden Door
AEW general manager and president Tony Khan has finally figured it out: He is The Forbidden Door.
And he’s really, really enjoying it.
8. Okay, Sting
Team Taz confronted Sting on Wednesday’s episode of AEW Dynamite and, after the 61-year old legend chose to toss aside his signature black baseball bat, was at the mercy of the group. The segment concluded with Sting being powerbombed by Brian Cage.
It looks like Sting should be good to go for the Street Fight set for AEW Revolution in March, when he teams up with Darby Allin against Team Taz’s Cage and Ricky Starks. But given all we know about Sting’s injury history (and, again, being 61 years old), it’s not hard to question whether Sting should have done that, even though he apparently very much wanted to.
9. AEW is ready to get crazy at Revolution
Perhaps the biggest bombshell dropped during this week’s edition of AEW Dynamite is that Jon Moxley will indeed get his AEW Championship rematch against Kenny Omega at Revolution. But it’s not just that the rematch is looming — the shock is in how it’s going to go down.
Moxley will face Omega in an Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match, the first of its kind for AEW and possibly the first of its kind in the United States from a wrestling promotion so prominent. Common in Japan, particularly in the 1990s, the match will feature C4 (or some other type) of explosives connected to the barbed wire ropes.
AEW has not shied away from raising the stakes or introducing a little danger into their product over the past year-plus. But this is just about as extreme as it gets. Revolution takes place on Sunday, March 7 on pay-per-view.
10. WWE Elimination Chamber match card
The WWE Elimination Chamber RAW men's match lineup saw a change this week when The Miz dropped out of the match for strategic purposes. He suggested to WWE official Adam Pearce that John Morrison take his place, but Kofi Kingston volunteered himself for the spot as well. Pearce decided that Miz and Kingston would face off; if Kingston wins, he’s in, and if Miz emerged victorious, Morrison would be in.
With Kingston winning that match, the Elimination Chamber WWE Championship setup for Sunday now pits the champion, Drew McIntyre, against Kingston, Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton, AJ Styles and Sheamus. Sheamus will enter the match last after winning a gauntlet match on RAW.
The other men’s WWE Elimination Chamber match (for a shot at Roman Reigns’ Universal Championship) sees Kevin Owens vs. Jey Uso vs. Baron Corbin vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn. That winner will take on Reigns later in the night.
Additionally, Riddle will face Keith Lee and Bobby Lashley in a Triple Threat for Lashley’s WWE United States Championship. and Asuka will likely defend her RAW Women’s Championship against someone, though it won’t be Lacey Evans as originally planned.
No Women’s Elimination Chamber match has been finalized, but that could easily happen on Friday’s episode of SmackDown.
WWE Elimination Chamber airs on WWE Network on Sunday, February 21.