Joseph Staszewski

Joseph Staszewski


Chris Jericho’s polarizing ‘Learning Tree’ gimmick can still do some good in AEW

Chris Jericho’s new “Learning Tree” persona has certainly not been for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it can’t do some good in AEW.

The phony high voice, the disingenuous positivity, the lackluster matches with Hook, the “Hey guys!” can all feel grating and pointless over time. I can be entertained by it in small doses, and seeing Jericho’s fellow wrestlers “Daddy Magic” Matt Menard and Private Party react to him last week like he’s crazy was important. Menard said Jericho went to the “looney bin” when he came out to give him commentary advice on Rampage. 

But I couldn’t help but watch the past few weeks and see some of the positives — albeit small ones for now — emanating from the Jericho Vortex.

Chris Jericho and Big Bill. Ricky Havlik/AEW

People kind of scoffed at “The Bounty Hunter” Bryan Keith joining the group at Double or Nothing, then last week he unveiled some hilarious comedic timing, telling everyone — including Angelo Parker’s unborn baby — to make sure they respect Jericho. It’s given him a chance to be more than Just Another Guy in AEW.

This week will be the second installment of the interview segment “TV Time with The Learning Tree Chris Jericho.” AEW has a shortage of extended live in-ring promos, and a show like that was needed to ensure Jericho can get talent those types of promo reps and break up the wrestling on the show a bit.

Also, Hook has found his way to the proper learning tree in Samoa Joe, who is teaching him to be the best version of the suplex killing machine he is.

We got a deep look at that on Collision as they menacingly barged into the Premier Athletes’ locker room and left them decimated. It could lead to a cool Joe, Hook and Katsuyori Shibata faction.   

Hook needs to learn to control his rage and be more cerebral with his violence. If he gets to that level, that’s the scariest version of Hook. 

Maybe Big Bill can get a meaningful babyface moment out of it when he finally realizes Jericho is selling him a bill of goods. But the history of those closest to Jericho in his factions getting a rub in AEW hasn’t been great. Sammy Guevara as a two-time TNT champion has been the pinnacle.

Jericho has had a much better effect on opponents — see: MJF, Orange Cassidy and to a degree Eddie Kingston.  

Chris Jericho and Bryan Keith AEW
Hook is waiting to truly break out. Lee South/AEW

There is much work to do to make the “Learning Tree” gimmick worth the time it’s been given. This can’t just be about Hook regaining the FTW championship and end there — it needs to propel him out of his seemingly career-long FTW rut.

The potential good it can do needs to manifest or it will end up being the waste of time many viewers already see it as. 

Safe space

NXT had two opportunities to make major headlines at Battleground and instead went out with a whimper on both counts — along with hosting the show at the UFC Apex, which gave off the wrong kind of old-school TNA and studio wrestling vibes and lacked crowd energy at times.

TNA Knockouts champion Jordynne Grace did not win the NXT women’s championship despite a good match that suffered from her being the babyface against a heel champion in Roxanne Perez. The only other TNA star to show up was Ash by Elegance, recently Dana Brooke in WWE, in a strange fight with Tatum Paxley over the Knockouts title.

Ethan Page can at least complain about the referee pulling him off Trick Williams when he was in control of the match and having it cost him, but imagine the shock if the former AEW star won the NXT championship in his first match. 

May in the middle   

AEW set up the desired story it wanted, putting Mariah May between AEW women’s world champion Toni Storm and Forbidden Door opponent Mina Shirakawa, May’s former partner in Stardom. They have let the sex appeal flow a little bit with the kisses and the faces in bosoms.

Mina Shirakawa, Mariah May and Toni Storm Lee South/AEW

But the challenge now for AEW is to develop the connection between May and Shirakawa so that the audience truly cares which side she chooses, especially with the audience starting to see Storm as a babyface. It will give the option to read the room and have May plotting against Storm all along or have the champ finally hold her protégé back enough that she finally flips on her.

AEW did flesh things out a bit as May made Storm and Shirakawa share an awkward handshake on Rampage, and the champ already foreshadowed a fatal flaw by announcing on Collision she entered May in the Owen Hart tournament, the winner of which gets a world title match at All In at Wembley Stadium.

The 10 Count

MJF’s first Dynamite promo back from hiatus makes me stand by my belief he should have saved some of his ‘A’ material from Double or Nothing. What we did learn was the former AEW world champion has some of the biggest names in the company in his sights as he called out Swerve Strickland, Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay — all of whom are all fresh and intriguing matches — while taking a shot at The Elite.

It’s my two cents on Ricochet, and take it for what it is. From a pure career standpoint, I would leave WWE for AEW because the emphasis is on wrestling and he is one of best and most physically gifted in the world. He’s likely hit a ceiling in WWE, and AEW would give him a main-event-level match against Ospreay, a roster of fresh matches and the ability to do incredible things with New Japan and CMLL talent.

It appears he is on his way out as Bron Breakker lawn-darted him into a production truck like Rey Mysterio and slammed him through a car windshield. Does WWE explain Samantha Irvin returning after getting in the ambulance with him?

For those who haven’t done a deep dive into WCW’s history, the first act of “Who Killed WCW?” on Vice TV gave a very comprehensive look at its rise to Starrcade ’97. But we didn’t get much new info. I was left encouraged by Vice getting interviews with Eric Bischoff’s secretary Janie Engle for the first time, Ted Turner’s son Edward and former president of Turner Networks Brad Siegel. It should make the finger-pointing over who killed WCW a lot of fun. (Ric Flair, who was not interviewed for the documentary, already got things started on Monday by naming Jim Herd, Vince Russo and Bischoff.)

WWE planting the seeds for a breakup between Austin Theory and Grayson Waller is risky. It’s going to take something monumental for the audience to look at either as a babyface. Both are excellent at getting people to hate them. Who breaks out and shows they can make people borderline like them?

That’s the most fluid Jade Cargill has looked in the ring. Timing, crispness and hard impact were all there on SmackDown. Someone made a good point on X to me about the importance of house show reps.

Kris Statlander striking Orange Cassidy was the right call on two levels. Cassidy is a beloved babyface and it only adds heat to Statlander — who got new music and now needs new gear — and having her get physical with the guys can become a way to set her apart from the rest of the division.

With NXT nearly eliminating the ratings gap with AEW Dynamite, WWE sure picked the perfect time to announce a Cody Rhodes appearance on the gold brand this week.

WWE gave us an important part of Otis’ story Monday night as he told Sami Zayn why he’s loyal to Chad Gable, who befriended him after he lost the Money in the Bank briefcase, Mandy Rose and tag team partner Tucker. My only complaint is what Gable is asking of Otis hasn’t really escalated, other than maybe an extra hard slap and costing him a match he didn’t want anyway. It’s all been “beat up Zayn or else.”

Ilja Dragunov won even in defeat Monday night. First person to push Breakker since his call-up in a heck of a match and even had Breakker considering a win by countout.

Not sure we needed Liv Morgan inviting Dominik Mysterio to her hotel room and then showing up again to get accidentally get pushed on top of him by Zelina Vega in the same night. It felt convoluted. The only intrigue we really got was Finn Balor scooping up the hotel key — great wingman or someone looking to work with Morgan?

(Extra: The A&E “Biography” on Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat is excellent. Hearing from his brothers about what they went through growing up as Japanese-Americans after World War I, along with some incredibly touching stories about their mom, really outshines the wrestling portions.)

Wrestler of the Week

Lola Vice, NXT

Vice picked up her second high‐profile NXT Underground match win, this time over fellow former MMA star Shayna Baszler at Battleground. While the finish felt so‐so, the match was highly entertaining and continued Vice’s push. Underground is now her signature match, and she also got to share a booty‐shake moment with rapper and host Sexyy Red.

Social Media Post of the Week

Match to Watch

Damian Priest (c.) vs. Drew McIntyre for the World Heavyweight championship, Clash at the Castle, Saturday, 2 p.m. (Peacock)  

This feels like a coronation for McIntyre, wrestling in his home country of Scotland and after holding the championship for just five minutes at WrestleMania 40. But Priest has been champion for just two‐plus months, and it is the only thing adding prominence to The Judgment Day right now. Does Morgan help in some way to get Judgment Day’s trust? Does CM Punk defy McIntyre’s warning and return to screw him again and announce he’s healthy? If they don’t, there will be a party in Scotland for McIntyre’s fourth world title reign.