Retropective Rasslin' - A Month in the Crazy World of Pro Wrestling.
The month has drawn to a close, and we're knocking on the door to Wrestlemania weekend - we don't usually mention the 'E', but Wrestlemania season has become less WWE-centric in the modern era, and seems to extract the very best from the wrestling world in what has essentially become a Mardi Gras of the graps game, revelling in the endless wonders or our great soap opera for one jam-packed week.
Question then - why have I felt so flat?
Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with the products at the moment, in fact, in a lot of ways, the product outside of the WWE umbrella is more exciting now than it has been in years. The crossovers are gathering steam, the talent across the board are phenomenal, and for the first time since TNA hit its stride back in the mid 00's, there's big name wrestlers showing up on non WWE shows and creating a real buzz about the competition.
So where are we going wrong? It's no secret that I've had a very busy few weeks - and that really could have had an impact on my enthusiasm, there's also been outside factors - a certain Zack Snyder recut of Justice League stealing the hype this month (note - it was worth it) but the reality is, I feel like for all the good things going on, it all felt a little rote coming into the month.
I've had the feeling this month like most wrestling fans had coming out of the AEW Revolution Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match... It started with a bang, has been largely positive, but surprisingly fizzled out at the end. I want an explosion, I'm getting sparklers.
Let's see if anything changed by the time Easter rolled in.
If there's anything that can bring the mood down, it's the IWC. For those who don't love their acronyms, that's the internet wrestling community. And as far as communities go, this one is about as dysfunctional as a WCW booking committee meeting circa 2000.
Recently, I had a disagreement with someone on a prominent social media platform wrestling group about some statements that Booker T made in relation to AEW metamorphosing into some new age WCW. Disagreeing with the statement from Book, and additionally to the view of the person who posted it, I presented a counter argument.
The initial raison d'être was the use of 'Legends' (described as 'past it' in the post) and established performers being signed by the company, and their apparent inability to present something new. Plus the idea that apparently a WCW comparison is a bad thing...
Raising the argument that none of the performers in AEW's title picture are 'past it', that WCW was a once formidable force and was not forever the way it is represented circa 2000/01, and that the 'Legends' are being used to nurture and put over up and comers (here's looking at you Tazz, Sting, Tully...), I was promptly accused of being 'triggered' and attacking the OP.
Being systematic of how internet discourse often deteriorates, this doesn't bother me in the least, and comes as no surprise - coherent arguments are a dying breed these days oftentimes replaced with opinion being presented baselessly as fact when, in reality, the two are very different.
But, it got me thinking.
Yeah, AEW and WCW share a myriad of similarities, but to present AEW as a division that do not do anything new, it's a stretch at the very least. I'm not going to go into too much detail here, as I've discussed it quite a lot over the last few months, but what Tony Khan is presenting in his Forbidden Door persona IS new. It's bringing together a string of promotions to further their reach, their popularity, and to present a cohesive narrative thread through the entirety of their shows. This has happened before, no doubt. In fact the NWA was originally very similar, having one overall champion defending in territories across the United States; those territories could well be our smaller companies like IMPACT.
We're also seeing buy in from - on a smaller scale - other international properties. Obviously New Japan Pro Wrestling (Omega clearly referencing something upcoming here as he mentioned being 'bigger than Ibushi' on IMPACT, and let's not forget that the IMPACT Tag Team Championship is currently residing in the land of the rising sun - more on that in the IMPACT section, strangely enough) but we also know that Omega is also the reigning Mega Champion for Mexico's premier promotion, AAA. This is new to audiences who have only grown up with one major organisation. With one company ruling the roost.
This presents an opportunity for fans to see what the territories were like decades after they folded, and to do it on a bold new stage where oceans and distance are not the concern they once were. This planet is more connected than ever, and the world of wrestling has often existed in its own little bubble. How awesome is it that companies are now recognising the championships of other companies (that they don't own) and working with them to gain more success, more viewership and to promote something that is truly becoming an alternative while attempting to break down the tribalistic loyalties to singular companies that wrestling fans are known for?
Kenny Omega's collector gimmick, again - not new - (Austin Aries performed the same gimmick on a smaller scale, also in IMPACT, as did Ultimo Dragon all those years ago) is working because it's being done on a large scale, with a fresh approach aimed at viewers who have never seen anything like this before.
Hm... Maybe I was wrong? Ultimo Dragon on WCW Nitro, with one or two championships.
The detractors will argue against this, but the facts don't lie. You can argue that AEW can't break a million views for Dynamite, but let's be honest, the viewing figures are little more than a tool to create conflict these days.
TV viewership has changed exponentially since the Monday Night Wars.
The legends issue is an even easier one to argue, as there aren't ANY legends actively competing for the Championship. Jericho lost it to Mox and has since left the title picture, with Mox, Kingston and Omega dominating thus far. Sting, Tazz - nowhere near the title picture. Paul Wight hasn't even wrestled yet. Yeah, we're getting sniffs and rumblings of a title programme with Christian Cage, but let's be realistic about this, many of the same critiques of Christian are from the same people that were cheering for him in his (brief) WWE reappearance, and are still looking forward to Edge's inevitable Wrestlemania headliner, and fondly reminiscing on his marathon Royal Rumble return. There's a good likelihood that Edge may win the WWE Championship too.
Can anyone else glean any double standards from this?
For my money, Christian was woefully underutilized as a singles competitor, and I really hope he gets a decent, twilight run with AEW as I feel that he deserves it at this stage in his career. Both he and Edge are in great shape, are recognisable, likeable faces and are both utterly wonderful comeback stories.
As an aside, headlining Championship programs in WWE currently feature Daniel Bryan (who's been headlining somewhere for around 20 years), and McIntyre/Lashley (who were doing this elsewhere around 6 years ago).
Not taking anything away from them, it's great where they all are at the minute, but let's not pretend that these are all whippersnappers compared to the 'AEW Oldies'.
Now it's no secret that I start these articles around mid-month, and this one started even later than that due to other pressures, but the good news is that my mind-set is slowly shifting and, at this time (which, for context, in the beginning of the Easter weekend), I'm feeling far less flat than I did weeks ago. In part, this may be down to binging the last few episodes of Dynamite. And let's be fair, many of the matches have been PPV quality. I was personally shocked at how much I enjoyed the Matt Sydal/Kenny Omega match (as a curtain jerker, no less), the previous week gave us Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa in a Lights Out match that was - and rightly so - critically lauded. I personally didn't enjoy it as much as some, but this was a personal thing - I felt uncomfortable with it. That's not to say it's not their prerogative to present such a hard hitting, bloody encounter - and it WAS incredible. I just found it hard to watch.
Call me old fashioned, but this is not for me. Sterling effort, great match, from what I saw between my fingers...
The story beats have been great too. But we'll look at these more in the bullet points below.
And just like that... Bullet point pros and cons! Here we go.
- Revolution was fun. The street fight was one of my favourites on the card, and the fallout with Cage is exciting. It's disappointing how the main event ended though, as both men, Omega and Mox, put on a great match and the fizzle is all it will be remembered for by most.
Snap, crackle and pop. Bonus points if you're old enough to get the reference.
- I love the Four Horsemen being back... Oh, hang on, I mean the Pinnacle.
Seriously, I think this will be awesome given the correct writing. Also ties nicely with a few weeks back with Arn and Tully exchanging the 'glance' and the hand gesture.
- .. A rejuvenated, antihero/face Inner Circle? Yes please. That beatdown was glorious.
- Speaking of Face turns, where are we at with Lance Archer? More turns than The Big Show. I feel the ball has been dropped. He was an absolute force to begin with...
- I feel bad for Hikaru Shida. She's at the top of the tree, and realistically should be the face of the division. However, the focus has seemed heavier on the NWA championship recently, and now we have Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa presenting a feud that realistically needs to include the title at some point.
Shida feels like a placeholder, and is largely irrelevant in her own division right now.
- Not for everyone, but I adore the Darby and Sting promos.
- Arcade Anarchy was so much fun. I still don't like Miro, or the gimmick, but the match was an entertaining romp. Good to see the return of Trent and Kris Statlander, and kudos to AEW for keeping Chuck relevant while his partner was out.
- I mentioned a great curtain jerker earlier with Sydal and Omega, and I truly believe that AEW are becoming the go-to company for opening matches. Christian and Kazarian was a great story. Kazarian the cocky, full time veteran trying to belittle his 'buddy' who's been out for 7 years.
The subtle mannerisms, the frustrations of both men. It was wonderful. Christian hasn't skipped a beat, though I think he could use a new finisher.
Oh, and a thumbs up for Christian Cage's entrance theme.
- QT was so sympathetic over the weeks, until he socked AA in the chops. Nevertheless, the Nightmare Family coup was a lot of fun. Cody's nice guy routine is getting to the point of being sickening.
My only concern, is we have a LOT of factions in AEW right now.
- I'd be remiss not to mention the news about AEW top dog Chris Jericho being confirmed for the Steve Austin Broken Skull Session podcast. AEW - a company leading a crossover with IMPACT Wrestling and NJPW - having their top legend appear on a WWE product - and Vince signing off on it...? What a time to be alive.
So that last episode of IMPACT before the Easter break featured a wonderful little promo highlighting the exploits of the IMPACT Wrestling tag team champions in the land of the rising sun, (also featuring IMPACT alumni and - NEW - IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay) and emphasised the jealousy and resentment of the former champions toward the men that, in a past life, carried their bags.
First of all, to bring those who may not know up to speed, at Sacrifice, the Good Bros dropped the straps - in what I'd consider an upset - to the contenders, FinJuice. I'd like to say I made this call in my column last month, and I think it was 100% the right call. This emphasised just how open this cross promotion of the relevant companies run. I said in my AEW section - what a time to be alive.
I'd like to think this will lead to a lengthy run for FinJuice, they're a capable, explosive team who are flying the flag for IMPACT wrestling half way around the globe. I'm in two minds as whether this will indeed come to pass. But. If that is the case, where exactly do the Good Bros go from here?
For my money, the answer is pretty obvious and has been telegraphed over the last few months - it's the AEW tag titles. Let's look at where we are.
Over the past few months, it's been made clear that Kenny and the Good Bros are tight. They're the power trio across both AEW and IMPACT, causing mischief everywhere they go.
They have riled up the Young Bucks numerous times since these shenanigans began, despite an uneasy 'too sweet' alliance early on.
Since then, it's been downhill from there.
We're noticing a pretty heavy focus on Don Callis with Matt Jackson, and for my money, they're being baited into an inevitable title match with the Good Bros which will, without a doubt, culminate in a Good Bros victory to coincide with the - also inevitable - Kenny Omega IMPACT World Championship win at Rebellion.
Without a doubt, an upset.
The other option, is that the Good Bros defeat FinJuice at Rebellion, and the Good Bros match Kenny as double champs. Either way, there’s a lot of scope here and the possibilities could be a lot of fun. It also made me chuckle when TK did the paid ad, and said if Kenny wins 'my problems become your problems' in relation to Kenny being a right pain in the ass.
Speaking of Kenny, that promo on IMPACT really took me out of the show. Besides the fact that in the backstage skit, they were heading to the ring for the promo and upon arrival, Kenny was in a completely different outfit, it just went on way too long. Don and Kenny talking over each other, Kenny being way over the top. It just didn't work for me.
Moving away from the Wrestling multiverse for a second and focusing solely on IMPACT, I'm enjoying the build with Sami Callihan and the new, SUPER angsty Trey Miguel. It's good to see Trey completely distancing himself from the stoner, treehouse gimmick that the Rascalz used and taking himself more seriously. The guy is crazy talented.
Also good to see another side to Callihan; diversity in character is something that is so important and often underutilized.
This is something that can't be said for Tenille Dashwood. Nothing personal, but I can't understand why her whole shtick with 'Kaleb with a K' is even still a thing. When you have Deonna Purazzo on the same show emphasising how to deliver a well-acted, entertaining character and people like Thunder Rosa and a white hot Brit Baker leading the charge in AEW, it really exposes half-assed, second rate and, frankly, cringe inducing gimmicks for what they are.
The only good that has come from this is Nevaeh's fall from grace, and the heelish attack on Havoc.
I suppose this is the silver lining to Tenille and Kaleb's cloud.
Though it does leave the KO Tag Division a little barren...
Speaking of diversity, I'm not sure it's for everyone, but the cult machinations of Eric Young's Violent by Design faction are both intriguing to me and different from everything else around at the moment. Eric Young is superb as the deranged leader of this band of misfits, and he's presenting a very dark dynamic with the role of the group. Again, there's a unique feel to this that I just don't think we have in any other promotion at the minute. There's a potential argument for the Dark Order here, but, since the tragic passing of John 'Brodie Lee' Huber, they've taken on a whole new identity.
Violent by Design. I wanna see some stuff that actually emphasises the name. Let's have a cinematic match where they really put someone out of action.
The indoctrination of Rhino into the ranks is also a masterstroke. Rhino, a character who, going back to his initial ECW run, was presented as an unhinged psychopath, is an absolute no-brainer for a group like this. Combining this with the fact that his program with Heath stalled with Heath's injury, and it seems like the correct course for a veteran without any real direction.
I'm hoping we'll see a baptism for Rhino that same way we did for Deaner, with a whole new look for the former Man Beast. Let's be honest, he hasn't deviated from his current image for over 20 years. A change is as good as a rest, though given his appearance at James Storm's 1000th match, it doesn't look like it. Shame!
I'm calling it now though, Heath will be the one to come along and free his buddy from the throes of this malicious movement upon his return.
We NEED to mention the Cowboy here too. For anyone to make 1000 matches with one promotion, that's a pretty impressive accolade. It baffles me that JS hasn't had more success in regards to his singles runs, being completely honest here. I always pictured Storm being a successful, multi-time singles champion when given the chance, but things just never worked out that way. It feels like he's been in limbo over the last few years too, between his NXT tease, and his time with the NWA, he's just never felt like that big a deal. Admittedly, his in-ring work can be sloppy at times, but he has a great look and can more than hold his own on the stick.
I guess it just wasn't supposed to be. Sorry, 'bout your damn luck, indeed...
The one and only. World championship reign, that is...
Other observations –
- I like Matt Cardona, I don't really rate Brian Myers. There's something about this feud that just isn't latching on the way it should.
- I've recently noticed how traditional IMPACT feels in regards to AEW. There's tons of gimmicks, weapons, tables and blood these days on AEW. IMPACT, we rarely see any of those things. Strange.
- I did not appreciate Don Callis stirring the pot recently causing a backstage brawl to take place between everybody - specifically Kenny, the Good Bros, Rich Swann, Willie Mack and Eddie Edwards - only for the perpatrators to then leg it 15 seconds after the scrap began. Surely you boys should have more staying power? That brawl should really have faded out, with no culmination.
- I wish Moose had defeated Rich Swann. I know, it would make no sense where the story is concerned, because Swann was the one who was pinned following the dreaded One Wing... No, sorry, the ONEWINGEDANGEL! ONEWINGEDANGEL! ONEWINGEDANGEL! And Swann seems to have the full support of IMPACT management, and that's great, good for him. But he's not winning me over. I do not see a World Champion when I see Swann any more than I saw one in Chris Sabin, or Jinder Mahal. I just hope Moose makes a triumphant return.
It's been said his contract is up soon - he's taken strides in his look, and his performances. It's not out of the realms of possibility that his stock will be pretty high...
Or maybe he has a part to play in Swann's inevitable demise at Rebellion.
- The X Division seems to have hit a bit of a lull at moment. I miss the days when it was the centrepiece of the company.
Unfortunately, that daredevil style has become less and less niche over the years and far more mainstream, meaning that the X-Division seems to have lost its identity a little.
Maybe it's time to spruce things up a little? They tried years ago, by turning the X-Division title into a pseudo Money in the Bank Championship, and devalued it in the process. Maybe it's time to add some more flavour to the proceedings somehow?
More Ultimate X wouldn't hurt...
- This, was a moment,
So, that's a wrap, as they say in showbiz! I'm really looking forward to the article next month, with Rebellion promising some great matches and furthering the Callis/Omega takeover, I think there's going to be SO much to talk about. In the meantime, it's Wrestlemania weekend coming up, and everyone and his dog has some great shows incoming, including Hardcore Justice from IMPACT and the entirety of Wrestlemania week.
Enjoy the festivities, one and all - I'll see you all on the other side!