With the WWE coming off of one of its biggest pay-per-view events of the year, and AEW headed on collision courses with not just IMPACT Wrestling but also apparently New Japan, this has been a busy week in the world of pro wrestling. Here are the biggest stories of the week, presented by SK Wrestling Senior Editor Andrea Hangst. Welcome to The 10 Count.
1. Edge, Bianca Belair win WWE Royal Rumble matches
It was a night for the Iron Man and Woman of the 2021 WWE Royal Rumble this year, with Edge (No. 1 overall for the men) and Bianca Belair (No. 3 for the women) punching their respective tickets to championship matches at WrestleMania 37. While the latter seemed telegraphed from the start — is there any woman in WWE currently more worthy of a Rumble win than Belair? — the former was quite a surprise, especially considering that Edge entered the match first and outlasted everyone.
With Belair on the Blue brand at present, it seems like a clash with SmackDown Women’s Champion Sasha Banks is in the cards for her WrestleMania moment. Edge, however, still has a choice to make. He let Drew McIntyre know on RAW that the babyface WWE Champion isn’t out of the woods and also appeared on NXT to confront its champion, Finn Balor and his TakeOver challenger, Pete Dunne. While Roman Reigns seems like the logical choice for Edge’s challenge, we will have to wait and see what the Rated R Superstar decides to do.
2. Royal Rumble signals Damian Priest, Rhea Ripley being called up to WWE’s main roster
While rumored for some time now, the official WWE main roster debuts for NXT standouts Damian Priest and Rhea Ripley took place at the Royal Rumble on Sunday, with both having impressive showings before ultimately being eliminated.
Priest made his WWE RAW debut the following night, teaming with musician Bad Bunny to defeat The Miz and John Morrison (and will probably be spending more time with the award-winning celebrity in the months to come). Ripley, meanwhile, has not been designated a WWE brand but could show up on SmackDown later tonight, if not RAW next Monday.
3. Tony Deppen and Jordan Oliver set a record at GCW’s Fight Forever
Last Friday and Saturday, Game Changer Wrestling — in concert with a number of other indie promotions and talent, and Orange Crush — presented Fight Forever, a 24-hour, nonstop live pro wrestling event from the GCW Performance Center in Philadelphia. Though the show featured numerous standout moments, none may have been more impressive than the Iron Man Match between Tony Deppen and Jordan Oliver.
Though initially set for 60 minutes, this became a 120-minute affair — a new North American record — after the two men were tied at three falls apiece after the first hour. Oliver ultimately won, seven falls to six, and successfully retained his Synergy Wrestling Championship.
Fight Forever was a benefit to provide extra income for independent wrestlers, who have seen their livelihoods decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The event raised over $54,000, all of which is going to the talent.
4. Blake Christian bids farewell to GCW
Numerous indie breakout stars have earned themselves contracts this year, including Alex Zayne and Elayna Black (WWE/NXT), and Eddie Kingston (AEW) among them. And it looks like yet another star is headed to the next level, with Blake Christian losing a GCW Career vs. Title match against RSP/GCW Champion Rickey Shane Page at Fight Forever.
Ostensibly, Christian is headed to WWE/NXT or IMPACT (where he's been spotted on TV recently), but nothing has been made official yet. What is known, though, is that Christian spent his last two years working as hard as anyone on the indie scene and is undeniably someone who deserves recognition. GCW and the indies will miss him, but it’s always great to see an undeniable talent like Christian push himself to the next stage of his career.
5. Jon Moxley and KENTA to meet at NJPW New Beginning USA 2021
With KENTA earning the No. 1 contendership to Jon Moxley’s IWGP United States Championship, it became a matter of “when” and not “if” the two men would meet. Granted, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrinkle into this matchup. However, over the weekend, we got our answer, as Moxley arrived at the US-based NJPW Strong event and confronted KENTA. The two men brawled before Moxley dropped the challenger with a Death Rider DDT.
NJPW has since confirmed that Moxley will defend the IWGP US title against KENTA at the February 26 New Beginnings USA 2021. But this appears to be just the beginning of what’s to come between Moxley, KENTA, All Elite Wresting and New Japan, if what happened on AEW Dynamite this week is any indication.
6. NJPW and AEW have seemingly entered a partnership, opening The Forbidden Door
Not only did Moxley confront KENTA on the NJPW stage, KENTA returned the favor and showed up on this week’s Beach Break episode of AEW Dynamite, dropping Moxley with a Go To Sleep following Kenny Omega and The Good Brothers defeating Moxley, PAC and Rey Fenix in the show’s main event.
Post-show, Omega and KENTA had a confrontation of their own, and while KENTA seems reluctant to trust Omega, it does appear that the AEW World Champion wants to have at least a temporary partnership to take on Moxley and Lance Archer in a Falls Count Anywhere matchup next Wednesday on Dynamite.
But that’s not all. It appears that the long-rumored, long-desired AEW-NJPW partnership may actually be coming to fruition. According to Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio, “the deal is done” for AEW and New Japan to “have a working relationship.” He notes that any major plans have to wait until the pandemic is contained and travel restrictions are eased.
What was once just fantasy booking looks, at some point in the future, to turn into reality.
7. Bad Bunny to stick around through WWE WrestleMania season
We’re on the road to WrestleMania, which means that the WWE would like to line up a celebrity or two for its annual Showcase of the Immortals. And it looks like the company has found their man in award-winning recording artist Bad Bunny.
As noted above, Bad Bunny teamed up with Damian Priest on WWE RAW this week in a tag match against The Miz and John Morrison following his performance of “Booker T” at the Royal Rumble. Bad Bunny was then spotted on Tuesday putting in work at the WWE Performance Center.
There’s no indication yet if this means Bad Bunny will take on either Miz or Morrison one-on-one, will team up again with Priest or if there are other, undisclosed plans for him as a WWE celebrity guest. But be prepared for more Bad Bunny on WWE programming leading up to WrestleMania 37.
8. WWE releases Lars Sullivan
After weeks off of WWE television, the company decided to part ways with Lars Sullivan. Sullivan’s tenure with the company had been mired by multiple controversies, and ultimately WWE head Vince McMahon chose to end their working relationship around a month ago after the performer repeatedly no-showed for television.
Sullivan released a statement to Fightful, citing his severe anxiety compounded with the 2020 death of his father as contributing factors to his inability to show up to WWE events. He added that he likely won’t be involved in professional wrestling going forward.
9. Shaq to make AEW in-ring debut next week
For months, Shaq had been (intermittently) calling out AEW’s Cody Rhodes, seeking a match, even sending his proxy, Jade Cargill to do his bidding. Now, it looks like Shaq will get his match, though not on the AEW Revol pay-per-view, as many had expected.
Shaq instead will be teaming with Cargill to take on Rhodes and Red Velvet on next week’s episode of AEW Dynamite, potentially because the March 7 date for Revolution could coincide with the NBA All-Star Game, which would require Shaq’s services at the TNT sports desk.
Still, it appears this isn’t only the time of year for WWE to boast celebrity cameos; finally AEW is getting that sweet Shaq action it has teased for some time.
10. AEW and NXT tournament updates
Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez defeated Kacy Catanzaro and Kayden Carter to reach the finals of the WWE NXT Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic and will face the winner of Ember Moon and Shotzi Blackheart versus Indi Hartwell and Candice LeRae next week. On the men’s side, Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza take on MSK in the semi-finals of the Dusty Classic next Wednesday, with the other semi-final match featuring Tommaso Ciampa and Timothy Thatcher against Grizzled Young Veterans.
AEW also announced the Japan and US brackets for their Women’s World Championship No. 1 contenders tourney. It features 16 competitors — eight based in the US, eight in Japan, with matches on both continents. The United States side features Serena Deeb, Riho, Britt Baker, Tay Conti, Thunder Rosa, Nyla Rose, Anna Jay and Leyla Hirsch. In Japan, the contenders are Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki, Veny, Emi Sakura, Ryo Mizunami, Mei Suruga. Rin Kadokura and Maki Itoh. There's no indication as of yet when the two brackets will eventually meet to crown the top contender for Hikaru Shida's AEW Women's World Championship.