The Post’s Joseph Staszewski brings you around the world of professional wrestling every Tuesday in his weekly column, the Post Match Angle.
So if the last week is what we get for an opening act to the WWE sale saga, we are in for a ride over the next few months.
Vince McMahon was unanimously named executive chairman and his daughter Stephanie McMahon resigned from her position as co-CEO and from the company itself on Jan. 10, just four days after he returned to WWE’s board of directors. As we moved into the wee hours of that night, rumors and a few reports surfaced that WWE was being sold to the Saudi Public Investment Fund and was being taken private. It sparked outrage online and a Fightful Select report that wrestlers would walk out if that was the case. There was also an Axios report that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were against a sale, a claim Fightful later reported wasn’t the case.
The rumors of the sale to the Saudis ended up being false, or at least very premature as WWE continues to bring in financial heavy hitters such as Raine Group and Kirkland & Ellis to assist JPMorgan Chase with the potential sale. It makes it all feel like we are months and not days away from any transaction. Barron’s even reported that All Elite Wrestling and the Khan family were in the pool of potential buyers for WWE.
After Stephanie McMahon’s abrupt departure, Triple H reportedly held a talent meeting last Friday to say he isn’t going anywhere as head of creative. According to Fightful Select, Triple H also said he and Vince McMahon “may have discussions” about creative but that he had the final say in the first hint that the company’s founder could mettle in the process. Now there are multiple reports out there that the executive chairman is back in the WWE office and suggesting changes. It begs the question, how soon until he’s back on TV?
Just Tuesday, a new SEC filing revealed Vince McMahon changed the company bylaws upon his return and no longer needs board approval for his actions. The change is the basis for recent investors’ lawsuits against him that claim McMahon is trying to “impose his personal will on WWE and its board.
Three days after resigning, Stephanie McMahon posted that she had ankle surgery. We also got a report from the Wrestling Observer that WWE CEO Nick Khan met with the heads of ESPN and Disney around the College Football Playoff championship game.
All of this happened in a week’s worth of time, and we have barely gotten started.
It’s also a reminder of how clouded the coverage of the pro wrestling world can be and how much murkier it could get as this becomes a ginormous media and business story. An outright sale to the Saudis could raise its profile to another level of interest when you combine the country’s abhorrent human rights record with the cloud of the sexual harassment claims still hanging over Vince McMahon – especially if a sale lets him take over creative again.
I’m not going to sit here and try to predict if and to whom WWE will be sold. Only Vince McMahon and Nick Khan truly know that and everyone else is probably guessing. It’s why the drips of information will likely continue after last week’s riveting start. As I stated last week, McMahon taking the company private will allow him to maintain and grow the power he just recovered. Although he could still come out looking like a winner if he sells for a huge figure to a blue-blood company such as Disney or Fox, where a Comcast sale would feel more lateral, but still potentially allow him to retain some control.
It will be fascinating to watch it all play out, but do so with a keen eye and some common sense and remember no deal is done until it’s actually signed. WWE’s sale circus gave us a wild opening week to possibly the biggest story in wrestling history. What will it do next for an encore?
Lowering the Boom
Adam Cole ended up being the big surprise for AEW at The Forum. Once the enormous pop ended, all Cole did was remind you how much he was missed the past six months and how good he is by delivering one of the best promos in the company’s history.
There was the raw human side talking about his shoulder injury and two serious head injuries that had him scared and seeing doctors multiple times a week. He talked about the headaches and dizzy spells multiple times a day, vomiting if he was in a car too long, and being unable to sleep because “I don’t know what’s happening to me.”
He thanked fans for their support through it all, tugging at their hearts with real emotion and great facials before turning the whole thing on its head. Instead of the “bad news” of a retirement, it was “bad news” for the AEW locker room that he was healthy and back. The sadness turned to intensity and determination and proclamation of a “new Adam Cole” to set up a babyface run.
If Cole can remain healthy, he gives AEW the fresh babyface on top of the card who’s very much needed right now to work with MJF after Ricky Starks just had his chance, Jungle Boy still has some work to do and Darby Allin hopefully entrenched as TNT champ for a while.
There was a ton of criticism online for the bloody Rampage street fight between Ruby Soho and Willow Nightingale vs. Anna Jay and Tay Melo and I can’t say I agree with the general backlash. If blood and that style of match is not your thing, I do get it. Soho’s face was very bloody. But first off, at least have respect for the women putting their bodies on the line for your entertainment.
Secondly, this was the payoff to a feud that goes back to the summer and was on TV at 10:30 pm on a Friday night. Thirdly, if you want women’s wrestling to be viewed as equal to men’s in AEW a few of these matches are going to take place once in a while. Finally, we have waited for Soho to start building something in AEW and this badass match is a good start. With that all being said about the general premise, that does not excuse there not being a safer setup for the scary powerbomb spot Jay took off the ramp that luckily didn’t turn out much worse.
Making an Impact
Impact told two fantastic stories heading into the Hard to Kill pay-per-view and delivered superb endings to both. All the players in the story between world champion Josh Alexander and Bully Ray played a role in the hardcore war. There was scorned friend Tommy Dreamer, and there was Alexander’s wife — who Ray had manhandled at one point — delivering a low blow that gave her husband the opening to retain. Most importantly, the technically sound Alexander proved he can deliver in that style match.
And what a moment for Mickie James, ending her potential “Last Rodeo” by defeating Jordynne Grace to become Knockouts world champion for a fifth time. Grace hit her with almost everything and the two did a superb job mixing in roll-ups and quick pins and finishing moves in the final five minutes to keep you guessing. The sleeper match of the show ended up being Eddie Edwards vs. Jonathan Gresham.
The 10 Count
Cody Rhodes announcing he will return at the Royal Rumble makes it feel even more certain he will win the match and WWE will figure out all the Roman Reigns’ championship details afterwards. That could include The Rock being the only member of “all generations of The Bloodline” not acknowledging him at Raw 30 next week.
Credit to NXT for trying to come up with creative ways to build bigger matches. Jacy Jayne and Gigi Dolan falling off the top rope at the same time to both win the battle royal and now face champ Roxanne Perez was perfect. Bringing Gallus back to keep Pretty Deadly from running the gauntlet just picked up business in the tag division. The ropes breaking on the ring to push Bron Breaker and Grayson Waller into a steel cage came off a bit odd and not believable, but happy this feud is continuing.
I can’t be overly upset about how AEW handled the rumors – which ended up not being true – of Mercedes Mone’ appearing on Dynamite. They named Saraya’s partner the week before and neither really leaned heavily into it or denied it. But based on fans reaction, Dr. Britt Baker’s “boss” line and wink was clearly a mistake.
The first hour of Dynamite felt as exciting, cool and hip as much of the stuff WWE has done over the years on high-profile TV shows. There were great, fun matches, a newsworthy return, two fantastic promos and significant celebrity cameos. But the show just kind of lost some steam after that until the main event. MJF’s promo on Ken Jeong and Freddie Prince Jr felt refreshing from his normal stuff.
Jinder Mahal feels like a perfect example of someone who will really benefit from a move to NXT and actually forming a faction with Sanga and Veer.
I’m here for more of Danhausen actually getting to talk on TV more. It seems like AEW is starting to lean into him a bit more after his segment with Paul Walter Hauser. He seems to agree.
Saraya looked so much more comfortable, intense, and fluid in the ring during her tag match this week on Dynamite compared to Revolution.
We may just be getting a super-sized version of The Hurt Business if MVP and Omos are in the fold. Would be a powerful group as Bobby Lashley was the right call to face Theory. Seth Rollins needs to get freed up for Rhodes and WrestleMania.
Yes, Jungle Boy and Hook (Jungle Hook) have bright futures as singles wrestlers, but AEW would be doing a disservice if they don’t get a tag run together at some point as there seems to be a natural chemistry there. Hook’s suplex of Big Bill was a sight to see and the big man sold it beautifully afterwards.
At the very least, the Uncle Howdy theatrics with Alexa Bliss raises the threat level in her championship match at the Royal Rumble with Bianca Belair. Then does Bray Wyatt fight Howdy at WrestleMania to free Bliss from his control or do we get a badass faction?
Very much recommend Eric Bischoff’s new book “Grateful” with Guy Evans – even more so if you aren’t a listener to his “83 Weeks” podcast. It picks up after his initial WWE run, Bischoff really diving into his bond with Hulk Hogan beyond the business, rebuilding his life after bankruptcy, finding joy with his place in the wrestling world and his WWE return are worth the read.
Wrestler of the Week
Mickie James, Impact
It’s always something special when Hall of Fame-level performers can get their flowers before they’re done and that’s exactly the moment James got at Impact’s Hard to Kill show. James’ potential retirement “Last Rodeo” story was so simple and effective, and it ended with her celebrating her fifth Knockouts championship with her family and holding her son Donovan. The match itself against dominant rising star Jordynne Grace held up well and took you on a great ride of James’ perseverance.
Match To Watch
Bayley vs. Becky Lynch (Steel Cage), “Monday Night Raw”, 8 pm, USA
We have waited seven years for a proper Becky Lynch-Bayley feud on the main roster and their promo on Raw this week – discussing their history and careers going in different directions – did a fantastic job setting this up. Lynch is trying to show Bayley she is better off without the rest of Damage CTL. WWE doesn’t do too many women’s steel cage matches, so it makes this pair’s second outing in the feud feel that much more special.
Around the Ring
- Frankie Kazarian has signed a long-term contract with Impact Wrestling
- Ring of Honor’s “SuperCard of Honor” was announced for Jan. 27.
- Mercedes Mone’ was announced as joining the cast for the action thriller “The Collective.” Paul Ben-Victor (Miro Lindell) plays an auctioneer to a seedy underground cabal bidding on human lives. Mone’ will be his blade-wielding head of security named Nikita.
- Sting, 63, revealed in an interview with D Magazine that his AEW contract ends sometime this year and he is planning for the end of his career at that point.