Retrospective Rasslin' - A Month in the Crazy World of Pro Wrestling.
Jason brings us his first monthly review of all the happenings in AEW and Impact Wrestling
Hey folks, welcome to the first of this ongoing article. A little delayed due to some personal circumstances, but here we are! Lets get All Elite to start with...
So, starting this column, I was concerned about where I'd begin and where to focus. A column like this is pretty much like booking a long-term wrestling story, there's no real end - the direction just changes. And that makes writing about it all quite the challenge.
So, a very quick personal note to Sammy Guevara - thank you.
Because coming away from that excellent 6-man tag on the 22/01 (ITV date) edition of Dynamite, the only thing I wanted to talk (write) about... Was Sammy Guevara.
Putting it into perspective, this was my least enjoyable Dynamite episode of the new year, at the time of writing this. The Brodie Lee tribute show was possibly the best wrestling show I've ever seen, relating to class and respect under such tragic circumstances, and both episodes of New Year’s Bash were excellent in their own way, with night one being a particular standout (more on that later). So, there was already an exceptionally high bar, and it's no slight on the product they put out to say that they couldn't meet that standard for a week. This episode felt like the comedown to that incredible period which, let's not forget, also featured the birth of the AEW/IMPACT! crossover (more on this later, too!).
I found my attention wavering in this one in a way that it hadn't in the preceding weeks.
That was fixed by the Spanish God, who legitimately put on what I consider to be, a career making performance.
That being said, the implosion of the Inner Circle over the last few weeks - maybe months (wow...) - has been one of the absolute highlights for me on a show that features both stellar, and outright abysmal, elements. Going back as far as the Le Dinner Debonair segment, we've seen MJF and Wardlow infiltrate the Inner Circle and cause no end of distrust and disorder. The obvious Guevara breakaway and, hopefully, babyface turn, is an example of long-term booking done right, something AEW are proving to be rather adept at, following the success of the Omega/Mox and Hangman stories.
On the subject of long term booking I'm also hoping, going back to Wardlow for a sec, that they don't forget about the rift that began developing between him and MJF recently, and capitalise on that too. Following the impressive outing with Hagar, I have no doubt that Wardlow is a babyface-to-be, waiting in the wings, betrothed to the AEW World Title somewhere down the line.
Speaking of AEW World Champions, let's talk about the inaugural one for a moment. Lots of smack talk going around on the internet about poor old Chris, be it due to his ('I’m not a political person') political leanings and donations, due to his role on the card, and due to his ability (yup, that Lionsault) and physical appearance.
That's right folks, body shaming is fine if it's directed at a 50-year-old man who works a high-profile job, in the public eye.
It stands to reason that Jericho will not be what he was and - let's be fair - he would never have won 'Wrestling Body of the Year' even in his prime, but he served his purpose by being the flagbearer of a new, ambitious company.
He is now in a position to elevate and make stars of the rest of the Inner Circle. Say what you will about him, but Chris Jericho and the Inner Circle are not the NWO. Everybody has a voice, and everyone is being promoted as top of the line talent who can beat anyone on their given day.
I'd like to see this play out with Jericho being exiled from the Inner Circle down the line, along with MJF, and have a decent Babyface - or even 'tweener' version of the stable having some fun, sans a bitter CJ, on Dynamite. But we'll see. I've been regularly surprised by this angle, and it's easily one of my favourite parts of the show.
A fateful moment. MJF and Chris Jericho, courtesy of What Culture.
Now I alluded to abysmal elements earlier, and I may get some heat for this, and it's cool... But what in the holy hell happened to Miro/Rusev?
So Miro debuts, looking like he's taken a dose of Steve Rogers Super Soldier Serum (as if he didn't look imposing enough as Rusev...), cuts a few crap promos and reinvents himself as... a gamer? I get the Twitch connection, I do, but honestly? I don't feel that it fits. And the 'Best Man' thing? What?
I'm sure some people love it, and that's cool, but it's not for me. The guy was a beast way back when he fueded with Cena. I miss that. That being said, the 'You're Gonna Be My Butler' match with Chuck was pretty good fun. Maybe it'll improve once the wedding - which is bound to tick the abysmal section - is over and done.
Another downer that I'm likely to get strung up for here... Matthew. Oh, Matthew...
You have to hand it to Matt Hardy. I don't think there's any wrestler anywhere who's managed to reinvent themselves so often and so successfully. He's like the anti-Undertaker. Callaway made subtle changes to the Undertaker character over the years, presenting the same basic character all the way through - even the American Badass wasn't that much of a diversion really; but Matt? Christ.
We've had normal Matt, V1, Damascus, Broken, Woken and the poor Matt that got buried for airing laundry. I jest, but his reinventions are unbelievable. Now we have Big Money Matt Hardy, the agent. Showbiz agent, not secret agent - though at this point nothing would surprise me - rinsing the young and impressionable Private Party of their cash with the promise of success, at the cost of integrity. Hell, he's even got them going to IMPACT For a title shot against the Good Bros following a fun match with Chris Sabin and Cowboy James Storm over on the Tuesday night show (naughty boy, Jerry Lynn!).
As a manager, I think Matt Hardy could be absolute gold. But his ring work, in this writers opinion, is just the worst. He's in there with Private Party who are swift, fluid and an utter joy to watch. Matt looks like an old action figure whose joints just don't bend right.
When you throw Top Flight into the mix (let's not talk about the strange botch from Darius in their 6 Man) he really does look old and borderline immobile at times.
- Who wants to see a crossover from our relevant Cowboys, James Storm and Adam Page? Imagine the shenanigans if these two hit the whiskey and the beer together. This is definitely on my crossover Wishlist.
- On the subject of star making performances, do we even need to talk about Jungle Boy and Dax Harwood, or is it a given? The Jungle Boy gimmick has a limited shelf life, but I'm incredibly excited about where Jack Perry goes following its expiration. 23yrs old, sky's the limit.
- An AEW women's tag tournament! Awesome. I guess we're short on storyline ideas, then right? The ladies, and the championship in particular, have felt like an afterthought for some time. This just confirms it.
- Is ANYONE enjoying the Jade Cargill/Shaq Cody/Brandi/Velvet two-decades-too-late-Jerry-Springer-car-wreck? Because I hate it. And although I think there's a place for everything on Pro Wrestling, I feel there's some serious stereotypes on show here that maybe need a rethink. Just my thoughts.
- Aren't team Tazz just the best mid card faction? Darby is just gaining and gaining from this feud, and he's already white hot. Not to mention the rub from (go on then Tony...) STIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNG! Cage and Hobbs, pure monsters. The only one treading water for me is Starks. But his time will come. The cream always rises. And regular readers will know that I think Starks is the complete package.
- Disappointed that our resident Cowboy didn't join the Dark Order. That could have been fun.
- Thrilled at - again - the long-term storytelling. He's got a broken heart. Everyone has used him and dropped him. FTR, the Bucks, Kenny.
He needs to find his own way.
The Cowboy lifestyle is a lonely one.
Let's see how Matt Hardy plays into this...
- I can't tell you how much I loved Kenny v Rey Fenix. That spike hurricanrana at the start of the match looked incredible.
- Penta out injured. Was that really him under the mask, during the beatdown? Long sleeves covered the tattooed arms...
I hope so though. Because if they're drafting someone in to cover a segment like that, it must be pretty serious.
Get well soon Penta.
- Ryan Nemeth - Dolph-Ziggler-from-Wish. And yeah, I'm aware of the sibling relationship. I just didn't rate the match with Hangman, and I think choosing a gimmick that doesn't imitate a stagnant mid-carder who could've been more would have been a better way to go.
- Finally, let's talk Kenny Omega and wonderful piece of kit that is the AEW World Championship.
This here is a tough one, as I'm starting to get confused as to where AEW finishes and IMPACT begins, and this is a direct result of Kenny working for AEW yet moonlighting every Tuesday on IMPACT. I'm enjoying this very much; however, if I needed to pick a fault, it's that nothing is really Every episode of AEW and IMPACT is just a tease for the next. We know you've taken on the belt collector gimmick Kenny, (honourable mention to Austin Aries, who did the same in IMPACT not too long ago) but let’s see an endgame here. Let's see what the true motivations and endgame are, because right now - I don't think we've scratched the surface. Still, I'm loving the in-it-for-himself character, and the overindulgent entrance. Long may this continue.
So, IMPACT. It's disheartening to begin talking about IMPACT by focusing on a perceived negative, but I can't help but draw attention to the fact that I don't really believe they have many real, credible, stand out contenders for their World Championship.
This may seem like a somewhat moot point, what with the regular appearances of Kenny Omega and, what seems to be, an angle toward Kenny eventually challenging and - no doubt in my mind - winning the title, but as a company (brand?) taken on its own merits, this could be a problem. That's not to say the people involved are lacking talent, that couldn't be further from the truth, but they are lacking in presence.
Few of them seem to carry themselves as a world champion, and the biggest culprit of this for me, is the champion himself.
When I watch Swann, there's just something missing. I can't work out whether its physical presence, how he projects himself, his promos - which I think are largely pretty poor, or a combination of all of the above - his in ring work is incredible, but we know that in pro wrestling, that's not enough.
That being said, I enjoyed the scramble at the beginning of the 26/01 episode, and it raised some interesting questions (shout out to Scott D'amore's... Uh... Shout out, to 'Impacts Top Mathematician' Scott Steiner).
Who was involved? Chris Bey, Sami Callihan, Willie Mack, Ken Shamrock, Tommy Dreamer, Moose, and IMPACT Champion Rich Swann.
So, which of the talent here is really a serious prospect to carry the mantle for the company?
Ken Shamrock would be an interesting prospect as a legit tough guy and just an absolute nut job granddad that would choke you out rather than sit you on his lap and give you a Werther’s Original, but equally, is that where the company should be going? I think not.
The best choice here is a fellow I've never had any interest in.
Moose & Chris Bey - Courtesy of Impact Wrestling.
For my money, Moose's feud with EC3 - dragged out a little as it was - was a turning point for him; a chance to reinvent himself as a serious, methodical and driven danger to the rest of the roster, and it's succeeded beyond reproach. Without a doubt, his Mic skills still need work, but when I look at him now - I see presence. It's also worth mentioning that the guy has clearly busted his butt to get in the best shape of his career, and it shows - emphatically presented in his performance at Hard to Kill.
I'm looking forward to his eventual championship run.
And that's not something I ever envisioned myself saying. I just hope it's not overshadowed by the whole crossover thing. As fun as it is, the challenge is going to be in all these companies managing their identity and the credibility of their rosters, and their championships, while co-existing. Especially now it seems NJPW have joined in on the fantasy booking fun. More on that next month!
And while we're on the subject of Fantasy Booking Fun, I'd like to pose a question. For the last few weeks on IMPACT, D'Lo and Matt Striker have really emphasised the fact that this crossover is less crossover, and more WAR.
I don't feel the same urgency coming from team AEW. It feels a little lukewarm in comparison. Also, it feels as though Impact are somehow the victims here, which has also thrown me a little as Callis is an IMPACT exec, and this seems to have been his doing as he plays the part of the invisible hand, the puppet master, the Godfather (no, not that Godfather...)
Then, we get a wily, pretentious, rich kid school bully personality coming from the side of Tony Khan on the (wonderful) IMPACT AEW commercials, which presents IMPACT as both victim, and underdog. I guess art is imitating life in that it's not a simple situation, with nuance left, right and centre.
Thinking out loud, I'm wondering if the idea is to present each company as the hero of their own story, akin to the ground-breaking performance from Bret Hart in 1997, appearing as a heel in the States, and a babyface in Canada. So AEW fans see AEW as the heroes, IMPACT as the villains and vice versa.
This creates a muddy landscape for those who follow both, but also success in painting the TRUE villains to be both Omega and Callis, the catalysts of all the events that have since followed.
AEW Champion Kenny Omega & Don Callis - courtesy of Wrestling Attitude.
Other thoughts -
- How good was Hard to Kill!? Seriously, so much fun all the way through with something for everyone. I'm curious as to the logic of booking an invading (ish) company to go over your World Champion clean but I'm sure there's a long-term plan at play here. Especially as Swann being an embarrassment to the company as a direct result has been mentioned by Sami Callihan and alluded to by Moose. I'm hoping to add a belated 'thoughts and feelings' review for the show here on Real Rasslin, so watch this space.
- Violent By Design. I'm undecided on this. Deaner looks like a deranged Stephen Amell though. And the Doering/Jake Roberts comparisons made me chuckle.
Cousin Jake could be something special with the right booking and some time and effort.
Whether he joins VBD, remains to be seen.
- Eddie Edwards has been on quite the journey since being battered by Callihan waaaay back in early 2018. I like what I saw with Myers. The nice guy being pushed to his limit was great, but Striker summed it up when he asked how much does a nice guy need to do, until he's no longer a nice guy. I'm ready for crazy Eddie to come back.
- I'm disappointed that Josh Alexander has been immediately pushed into another Tag Team programme, with no remorse for his now storyline deceased (RIP) tag partner, Ethan Page.
In my view, a new look and a new focus would have done Alexander wonders. By not mixing it up, he risks being a little stale.
IMPACT, don't let that happen.
- Speaking of Page, I hear he was unhappy with the editing of the Karate Man match/segment, and overall use of the character.
I'm a huge Page fan, but seriously... It was a fun segment that was only ever going to be comic relief. I'm excited to see where he goes next, but I think it's a crying shame that he left.
He was an Impact World Champion waiting to happen.
- Matt Cardona looks like a million bucks. It always surprises me how big a guy he really is, and I'll never really understand why he's been so overlooked for so long. Maybe it's the fluorescent trunks and the goofy demeanour.
Anyway, I marked out a little with the meet between the former Edge Heads.
Fingers crossed there will be a meaningful feud here for both men. God knows that Myers needs it.
- Fire and Flava festival...? Let's just move on.
- Trey back in the mix is a welcome surprise given the other former Rascalz move to pastures new, and the first match of his return was hot.
I'm hoping to see good things from Miguel going forward.
That's it for me, following a packed month in IMPACT and All Elite.
February brings us closer to Revolution and presents IMPACT+ exclusive, No Surrender, not to mention the very recent NJPW developments, so it's going to be another interesting month coming up. Strap yourselves in, the ride is just getting started!
Join me in early March for some views and opinions, and a whistle stop tour of February's happenings.
Don't forget, if you have any thoughts on this piece, you can contact me on the links provided, or in the comments section.
Until next month folks!