Welcome back, and yes, I’ve changed the name of this gimmick from the imprecise “Don’t Miss This” to “Watch This Wrestling.” So without further preamble, here’s what you need to see from the last week of pro wrestling.
WWE Match of the Week:
John Cena vs AJ Styles vs Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship
WWE SmackDown Live, 2/14
While the 2017 Elimination Chamber is the match that got all of the attention this week, I prefer the WWE Championship rematch that took place two nights later. Why? The Chamber match had a slow, stilted pace, or at least it did until it was just these last three.
So, not only did SmackDown Live’s triple threat match between John Cena, AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt rule, it did so while playing on our expectations.
That “A Wild Luke Harper Appears!” moment at the top of the match existed in-part to toy with fans worried that Wyatt’s run would last a mere 47 hours. Further, while we knew to expect great things whenever Cena and Styles face off, this confirmed that Wyatt and Styles is a top-flight pairing that will do well in the future. I look forward to their post-Mania program.
Non-WWE Match of the Week:
Tetsuya Naito vs Michael Elgin for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
NJPW, The New Beginning in Osaka, 2/11
Pop some popcorn folks, because this one goes long (more than 35 minutes). And sure, some might not like it for its length (time constrained viewers should check out Shibata/Ospreay or Kamaitachi/Dragon Lee) but I believe the reward is worth the investment. Naito’s detachment and chill make for a perfect pairing with “Big Mike” who plays ever the angry, straight-forward, revenge-driven babyface.
The match shows Naito taking a ton of punishment, and makes Elgin look incredibly powerful. It even has a couple of surprising moves in it that I won’t spoil, just look out for Naito going for a Tope Suicido.
And while this match shows Naito working over Elgin’s injured knee and eye socket, the match isn’t overburdened with the moments where Elgin’s knee isn’t able to support him. Elgin’s expressions are great, too, especially his look of exhaustion and surprise when Naito kicks out later in the match after a sit-down powerbomb.
WWE Segment of the Week:
The Festival of Friendship
WWE Monday Night Raw, 2/13
I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but hot damn this was good.
Haven’t watched it yet? Watch these clips and then read. In that order.
Even the intro, Jericho’s colorfully-lit pre-taped message that welcomed “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, grandmothers and grandfathers,” to “The Wrestlemania of Camaraderie” was confoundingly weird.
I’ll be honest, I got lulled into a sense of security. Just as Graves looks startled by all the fireworks, I got bewildered the second I saw Jericho’s super-huge, extra-doofy smile. He wears that smile to close the video and as he walks out to split apart his feather dancers, and he just had me scratching my head.
Even knowing what we now know, Owens’ look of boredom doesn’t telegraph the ending, it just gives viewers this sense that he’s as confused as they are. From the blatantly homoerotic sculpture by Ralph Guggenheim (a name borrowed from a graphics designer from Toy Story) to The Creation of Kevin (“it’s art, you don’t need pants”) this segment is chock-a-block with laughs.
Also, note the Jericho line “true art grows on people,” because you need to rewatch this segment. Its pacing is perfect, with Jericho’s rapid-fire dialogue and Owens delivering deadpan line after deadpan line (“scarfs are your thing,” “Chris, where did you find Friendship The Magician?”).
You don’t even need to know about Triple H pulling Owens aside erlier and speaking likely-evils into his ear. But that added layer, that puppet master moment, gives the little flakes of humanity in Owens, which you see when he’s shaking his head wearily, hoping Jericho delivers Goldberg, to redeem the utter silly stupidity of this all. And the utter disappointment on Owens’ face when freaking Gillberg shows up. Yes, that’s how much Jericho cares about his best friend, he called up The J.O.B. Squad’s finest: Gillberg.
So as Owens says “I don’t understand!” to Jericho, he’s saying “What do you expect me to do? Triple H was right, you’re making me into a joke!” And then Jericho goes and says it all:
“For the last year, I gotta tell you, listen, I’ve had such a great time working with you, being your partner, it’s made this last year in the WWE one of my favorite years of my entire career.
And a lot of that’s because of you.
I’ve had a lot of friends in this business and a lot of partners but I haven’t had the chemistry with any of them like I have with you. It’s been a joy. You’ve made my job here and my time in the WWE here a better place, and I wanted to thank you for that.”
So when Jericho ends that emotional unfurling by promising Owens a Fast Lane win over Goldberg, we now know Owens cannot retain his title. We know that this friendship is doomed.
We don’t know who made The List of KO. It could be Owens, it could be Triple H. But once Owens decides to ask for it, it’s all over, and he’s relishing in the moment. Kevin Owens may have humanity (I think I see hints of him feeling guilty) but he also derives a terrible joy from destroying those who trust him.
So we heard the words
“How come my name’s on this?”
Then, after the brief beatdown, this gets the signatures of KO and Jericho. First, Owens giving Jericho the ring-apron powerbomb (Sami Zayn is chuckling somewhere) and then putting Jericho through the TV, just like Jericho put Shawn Michaels through the TV, as Michaels put Janetty through the barber shop window.
Non-WWE Segment of the Week:
The Broken Hardys in Tijuana Part 2
Impact Wrestling, 2/16
It’s almost as if everyone else saw the festival of friendship and thought, “well, no bother trying to top that.” Except that both the ROH and Impact this week were pre-taped and NJPW doesn’t really do non-match segments.
I can’t stand The Wolves Breaking Up stuff, the Mini Moose & Big Moose setup for Jealous Cody’s Return, and especially Braxton Sutter’s Bachelor Party and Laurel Van Ness’s Bachelorette Party. Even Eli Drake & Titus’ segment stank.