This past week in professional was a banner week in 2021 as each company welcome backed their audiences at full capacity for the first time in over a year and a half. While AEW has run shows in Daily’s Place with a crowd, they returned touring the few weeks. The WWE hosted a crowd for the first time since WrestleMania this past Friday on SmackDown and Impact Wrestling welcomed back fans Saturday at Slammiversary.
While each wrestling promotions, including promotions such as Ring of Honor, MLW and GCW, have created a plethora of memorable moments over the last year and a half, things are finally looking as if they’ve returned to a sense of normalcy. Pro Wrestling had to get weird and wild over the course of the pandemic, but now each is seemingly going all out. Pro Wrestling thrives on feedback from the fans which created a culture shock within the industry. Some promotions handled the pandemic to perfection such as Ring of Honor while others did so in a way that did not get much good publicity (WWE), but each promotion went above and beyond to entertain people while the world was in peril. Fortunately, the world is beginning to turn a corner thanks to an unprecedented vaccine roll out. I can’t stress this enough: go get your vaccine!
Regardless, depending on the feedback I get from this piece, I’ll do a similar piece every week going forward on takeaways from each show in wrestling.
AEW Dynamite, July 14th:
The Independents were in a bit of a lull heading into the pandemic, but heading out of it they’re in a far better spot. At the forefront, Wheeler Yuta has been the biggest breakout after performances against Chris Dickinson, Matt Makowski and Tony Deppen in Beyond’s Signature Series, appearances in ROH and a match with Rocky Romero on NJPW Strong. Yuta is currently the reigning IWTV Champion following a tremendous series of matches with Lee Moriarty and even had picked up an upset win an AEW Dark. Yuta, who may legitimately be the best fundamentally sound talent on the Independents, made his AEW Dynamite debut in a short showing against Sammy Guevara. Wheeler Yuta has been the entire headline, however. For those who have only seen Yuta once or twice, you’re in for a treat whether it be from his magnetic charisma, his colorful gear or his scintillating in-ring work. Wheeler Yuta is a name on the rise and a stock to put money in.
For me, the most interesting part of the program was the exchange between Adam Page and Kenny Omega. As a fan, I can’t remember the last time that a segment was so well done. It felt rewarding to watch that segment, as somebody extremely invested into the Adam Page persona and character development. The man who hit rock bottom and struggled to trust the Dark Order as they extended an olive branch because the Elite had shattered his hopes finally found a reason to trust them. Page has been scared to go after Kenny and the Bucks because they know his insecurities and he’s once again afraid of failing. The Young Bucks use this to their advantage in an attempt to gaslight him as Omega uses it as an opportunity to sneak attack. Enter: The Dark Order. They own a television and watch the product! They ended that silly trope in wrestling that’s been far too played out! From here on out, it’s what makes Kenny Omega the best wrestler in the industry today. Kenny Omega has excellent matches with anybody and can do a lot of cool things, but it’s the detail in every story he tells. It’s the delivery in his promos. It’s the way he commands your attention. The way he looks in the camera and lowers the shades, creating a GIF to go viral while keeping you glued to the screen. The Young Bucks finally get Adam Page to break and be overzealous and it’s a rouge for the villain to gain an upperhand but the heroes friends prove that they have his back. From there, they broker a deal that benefits all parties. It’s a clear story: Kenny Omega wants one thing and Adam Page wants the other and both are desperate enough to do anything to achieve their goal. What in that segment made Kenny stand out for me? It’s his exchange with the crowd. It’s so simple. You get the crowd to want to chant for the baby face even more and in the process, you’re verbally abusing them and you get rattled so that they only continue to boo you. That’s how every Mr. McMahon promo went at his peak. I don’t know where things like this got lost along the way, but this is a key part of a good heel presence. The goal in wrestling as a heel is to get yourself over but don’t do it at the expense of the baby face. You need to be so detestable that it only makes them get behind the hero more. It’s the little things that Kenny Omega does and has been doing across multiple companies that puts him above MJF, Roman Reigns, Nick Aldis, Johnny Gargano, Jacob Fatu or any heel across any promotion that’s getting love. Kenny Omega does not need to rely on cheap heat because he is a heat magnet from the way he acts, the way he carries himself, the way he dresses, the way he unapologetically himself. No segment or program is the same. Kenny Omega is on another level and there is not a wrestler on the planet close to bringing to the table what he brings to the table.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway of this week’s AEW show though is how popular all of their acts were. One worry is that when you run the same town constantly for months that the audience grows with the character in that town, but not overall. You can’t adequately gauge who is over from town-to-town. On Wednesday, Ricky Starks, Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, Britt Baker, Jungle Boy and Adam Page all received reactions bigger than the already established names such as Jon Moxley. The quarterly ratings, highlighted by Adam Page’s segment and Sammy’s match with Yuta, even backed this up. AEW stayed over 1M from Ricky Starks with Brian Cage (which followed a match between former WWE stars Jon Moxley and Karl Anderson) through the rest of the show. It’s eyepopping how over the entire roster was compared to WWE where the loudest reactions this week were for John Cena, WWE Hall of Famer Edge and Becky Lynch, the third of whom wasn’t even on the program. Whereas WWE has to pipe in crowd noise in certain areas because the crowd is visibly dead, AEW did not have a single down spot on their show. Everybody is important, everybody is relevant. It’s interesting how the different philosophies in how the show is presented makes talent appear more important. Of course, anybody who follows pro wrestling as long as I have could tell you that.
While AEW passed its first audience test with flying colors, WWE proceeded to produce a completely different energy. The biggest stories across the Thunderdome era has been the Bloodline, Alexa Bliss and Drew McIntyre. The reactions? Mixed.
We’ll start with Alexa Bliss. For as critically panned as this story has been, for many good reasons, it was just as panned in front of a live audience. I was a little taken aback due to how over Alexa Bliss usually is, but the story’s just that cringe. It’s as if Vince McMahon turned on Netflix, binged Supernatural once and decided to give Ruby an origin story. Hopefully, this ends soon and we don’t get a love angle from a proverbial Sam Winchester. Part of me wishes that this story ends soon, but at the same time, Alexa can never truly go back to the character she was beforehand. As for the women’s Money in the Bank, Nikki Cross was an interesting winner. As a Nikki Cross fan dating to her days in ICW and SWA, I’m happy for any success that comes her way. It’s just a weird time to pull that trigger with the way her character is “almost” a superhero. Nikki Cross just won the championship, so what does she have to do to become a superhero? She should be struggling to have a superhero type redemption arc, but that clearly isn’t the way that they’re going. All of this being said, Nikki Cross is a tremendous performer and even better human being so I am very pleased with her recent success. Liv Morgan made the most story sense with the way they had been telling her story, and it’s evident by the way the crowd responded that they agree with me. The Liv Morgan trigger should have been pulled, yet it was not. Is WWE going to pivot whatever plans they may or may not have based on crowd response now that you can understand how crowds view each performer, or will it be a situation that ends up being similar to when the crowd wanted Becky Lynch to win Money in the Bank in 2018 and received Alexa Bliss? WWE refusing to get behind Becky Lynch blew up in their face and now she’s their biggest star.
Becky Lynch is a star so big that Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair could not even get underway before deafening Becky Lynch chants on Sunday. It was so bad that Charlotte flipped a bird at the audience, as Becky has been absent for over a year now. Loud Becky chants were heard throughout the match as the audience protested yet another Charlotte Flair push, which isn’t a surprise. Charlotte Flair simply is not a star at the level that she’s presented as and never has been. Becky Lynch, on the other hand, became the biggest star they’ve created since John Cena despite WWE trying to lower her ceiling. The match ended up being a really fun part of a really fun pay-per-view and Charlotte addressed the chants again on Monday night when the audience once again interrupted her for Becky Lynch. Becky offered a humorous response.
Rhea Ripley, even with the audience behind her, jobbed to Charlotte Flair on Sunday after beating her nonstop for months. She won by disqualification in her rematch. WWE continues to halt any momentum of somebody the crowd gets behind and thus, other than Becky Lynch, hasn’t built a true star in a long, long time. Charlotte Flair is an 11-time champion between Raw and SmackDown, yet the only reaction she’s gotten from the crowd in years is for somebody who hasn’t been there in over a year. Following the match, “Nikki ASH” cashed in her Money in the Bank in a really fun surprise. Yet, the title had just changed hands 24 hours earlier, give or take. The Money in the Bank continues to become a prop with holders such as Baron Corbin and the Miz, but I’d argue the women’s booking of the case is just as sketchy. Of the five winners, the first winner (Carmella) had to defend the briefcase because she was not the one who obtained it. She is still the only case holder to have the case more than a single day, four years later. Alexa Bliss in 2018 interrupted Nia Jax’s title defense against Ronda Rousey to become champion. Bayley attacked Charlotte with the briefcase following her championship victory against Becky Lynch in 2019. In 2020, Asuka was rewarded the women’s championship the next night when Lynch had to relinquish the belt.
Not to mention, the booking of the championships. Charlotte Flair is a 13-time women’s champion right now across all three brands since 2014. Assuming she wins another championship this year, she’ll average two reigns per year. Yet, a vast majority of her reigns are extremely short. That’s two one day or less title reigns to end via a cash-in and an average of approximately 68 days per title reign total. Charlotte has had one championship reign that is actually somewhat memorable, so does her amount of championships reigns really matter? This watered down both the championship and briefcase.
WWE running the same matches as the night before was the pandemic special, yet it seems like this lackluster 50/50 booking will only continue as they announced the Viking Raiders will receive a rematch next week on Raw for the tag team championships. Before we get into anymore booking fiascos, can we discuss how great that match was? It accentuated the strengths of Omos, hid his flaws and AJ carried the leg work with a great tag team. From a match quality standpoint, that pay-per-view more than delivered. The Viking Raiders, who just lost, will presumably lose again for seemingly no reason whatsoever because they pinned John Morrison in a six-man tag team match. Nobody can gain heat or retain it under this booking strategy.
Even worse, the reason that they have no stars is because of how they book. They don’t try to highlight the strengths of their performers and it shows. Karrion Kross is a solid enough worker who can have a great match with the right opponent, but he isn’t Kurt Angle when the bell rings by any means. He’s also not Jake Roberts with a microphone. What he offers is a big man who can do somewhat cool things with the presentation he was given, which is even part of the character arc on NXT where Adam Cole was trying to prove he was all steak and no sizzle. That’s why he succeeded on a show like Lucha Underground because he was different. Full disclosure: I’m not a Karrion Kross fan, which seemed to be the majority opinion in wrestling circles. Karrion Kross came into the company without the audience and was pushed to the moon. The live audience reaction was already going to be critical to seeing how well his presentation actually works. He came across unique because of his smoke and mirrors, the light show and what his wife added to the overall package. Debuting as an undefeated NXT Champion, he had zero lights, zero smoke and Scarlett wasn’t in sight. Then, in 90 seconds, he jobbed to a man who has won three total matches this year. To make matters worse, the crowd favorite cheated to beat him, which makes nobody in the situation likable. The crowd was skeptical, but he never truly got an opportunity to introduce himself before immediately floundering. I’m struggling to understand why you would build him up for so long just for that?
It’s because of stuff like this that the WWE still has to rely on novelty acts such as Bill Goldberg, who returned to challenge Bobby Lashley for the WWE Championship. Let’s put aside the fact that last time we saw Goldberg, he had just lost in mere minutes in a WWE Championship match and just demands another shot, but if the WWE had built up stars they wouldn’t have to rely on old one’s who almost break their opponents neck every time they’re in the ring now because they can’t properly execute the one maneuver they know at this stage in their life. If Goldberg had put over a Bray Wyatt or Kevin Owens, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this predicament. Once somebody is a drawing commodity, they should be used to make more drawing commodities. Hopefully Goldberg does so at Summerslam, but the track record doesn’t give one much hope.
Drew McIntyre had a funny weekend. Drew McIntyre carried the show through the pandemic. He put out a collection of mat classics and worked more than anybody through the most difficult of situations and was the face of the company when they needed somebody step up the most. Drew McIntyre was the most important person for the WWE during the pandemic. However, he’s been in the title picture nonstop for a year and a half, thus they were running the risk of making him another John Cena or Roman Reigns in the eyes of the fans to the point he may get rejected. There were loud boos at the start of his backstage promo. Drew, his charming and self-aware self, made a joke about it that got a pop from the crowd. WWE artificially piped in audience noise throughout the night, Drew was obvious watching the crowd vs the noise created. The discrepancy was interesting. On Raw, however, the reaction for McIntyre was entirely positive. It’ll be interesting to see how crowds react going forward now that he’s out of the title picture for the foreseeable future. A redemption angle for Drew could do him a lot of favors.
The Universal Championship scene was the most interesting part when it came to crowd reaction. Roman Reigns is having the best run of his career, no matter who you ask, since turning heel last year. To the dismay of many, it’s been the same story for every program. No matter how good Paul Heyman is and how comfortable Roman has become in his role, you can only cut the same promo so many times before it gets tiresome and contrived. Roman’s backstage bits haven’t been good in awhile, but there’s no crowd to confirm or deny a rather subjective take. On Sunday, there were loud “BORING” chants during his regular soliloquy. Yet, when he came out and that bell rang, he had that crowd in the palm of his hand because despite the loud minority who thinks he can’t work, he 100% can. Right now, from a psychology standpoint, there is only three or four more consistent wrestlers in North America that put on a better match than Roman Reigns does. The storytelling aspect of Roman Reigns is tremendous, but the lack of fulfilling stories is alarming. This is more indicative of bad creative (shocker, that’s been an issue for a minute) than it is a discredit to Roman Reigns, but if you’re going to get to WrestleMania then you need to refresh it stat. The Cena pop after was one of the loudest in years. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and wrestling fans finally appreciate the true greatness that is John Cena. Unlike No Mercy many moons ago where they tried to position Roman Reigns vs John Cena as a dream match in a time where Roman Reigns was not good at a majority of top guy things, this match is now a happening. This match is now a bonafide main event. There is a clear story there. There is a reason to be excited in what these two can create in the ring. While Cena’s story is obvious: chase the record-17th championship, Roman Reigns winning only does more for his aura. It only propels whoever ends up beating Reigns down the road even more. One can hope that it’s as simple as it looks: Big E. Big E had the best night on Sunday, winning Money in the Bank. It’s clear that they’re about to rocketstrap Big E, which I’m all for. There is not a wrestler in that locker room that oozes more charisma than Big E does. He has an excellent look, is a freak athlete, beloved by everybody, naturally likable and charismatic as hell. He is the next big superstar. Is he the one to dethrone Roman Reigns? Or does he go for the WWE Championship and Bobby Lashley, who just destroyed his two best friends? Regardless, Big E with the briefcase makes both world championship pictures fascinating.
As for the production of the events themselves, it was questionable at best and I don’t mean in terms of the awful Kevin Dunn directing. I’m used to that by this point. There was a stretch of at least eight minutes where the feed people are paying to watch cut out entirely and missed parts of the show. It got me thinking: what other problems am I enabling by paying for? It led to a discovery I didn’t want to make. As a consumer if I wanted to be upset with WWE about Peacock or literally anything. the old adage is “speak with your wallet.” Now, I’m not that silly. But let’s say in theory I did. They’re getting a billion dollars and peacock would have no idea I canceled due to WWE. I could’ve just signed up because I love Frank and Marie Barone’s banter and cancel when I’m tired of Everybody Loves Raymond on loop. So, me speaking with my wallet would not have an repercussions whatsoever. So the consumer basically has no say now because they’ll get the money regardless. Vince built a great brand but that’s all it’ll be in a world where quantity of content is preferred over quality. The pay-per-view feeds constantly have too many kinks, there is no timestamp, the artificial intelligence on the app isn’t nearly as good, it’s not close to being as organized. Peacock isn’t built for a niche product like WWE and the content that they offer. It’s not consumer friendly whatsoever.
All in all, a lot of what the WWE did didn’t make sense and there’s a lot to takeaway from the crowd reactions. The two most over talent this weekend were John Cena and Becky Lynch and that’s telling of the product. Yet, if you take the pay-per-view for what it was at face value, Peacock nonsense aside, it was a pretty enjoyable affair.
When I mentioned Kenny Omega has different feuds and different styled matches, I meant it. Omega, who this year alone has put out classics with Jon Moxley, Moose, Jungle Boy, Rich Swann, PAC/Orange Cassidy and Rey Fenix with each match working an entirely different style, now worked a No DQ match with Sami Callihan that’s as crazier as one could possibly imagine. Afterward, he’s confronted by old pal Jay White of New Japan Pro. Jay White is the closest thing wrestling has to a 2000 Triple H. At Monday’s Impact tapings, **SPOILER**, Frankie Kazarian of AEW began chasing the Impact World Championship. Moose is still hoping for a rematch. Kenny Omega, at the top of his game in every facet, has wrestlers from three different promotions gunning for the Impact World Championship as well as people gunning for the AEW World Championship and the AAA Mega Championship. Years of the Impact World Championship being misbooked and meaning very little, Kenny Omega has brought back its prestige. Going forward, we have no idea if Kenny Omega’s next opponent for the Impact World Championship is from Impact, AEW or New Japan. Everybody is coming from all over the world to challenge for the Impact World Championship, showing that it is a valuable prize. At the same time, Kenny Omega is helping get talents in Impact Wrestling over that weren’t over before. Kenny Omega is elevating championships and other performers and bringing them up to his level at a rate we have not seen since NWA Ric Flair. That is a credit to Kenny Omega and for that, he is the number one wrestler on the planet bar none. Not to mention, how consistent his in ring work is no matter the match or opponent.
In addition to Jay White, NWA’s Thunder Rosa challenged for Deonna Purrazzo’s championship. NJPW’s Finjuice made their Impact return. Ring of Honor’s Chelsea Green teamed with her fiance, Matt Cardona. Impact has gone from burning all of their bridges to having a working relationship with every major promotion outside of the WWE banner. That’ll be fascinating to see how much each company leans into the Forbidden Door now that travel is back to normal. Impact’s best feature is their pacing. At no point did the crowd feel tired or out of it and a lot of it had to do with the order of the segments, every match had a chance to breathe and it was timed just perfect. A really nice first pay-per-view in front of fans for Impact.
There’s a lot more I could discuss about this week in wrestling, but this has already been a little wordy. Pro Wrestling just had a wonderfully fun week. It’s with hope that I foresee this new wrestling boom (wrestling as a whole is worth almost a billion more on the television market than in 2016) to only get larger. Welcome back to the fans, we missed you so much. I’m with Drew McIntyre: I hope we never mention the Thunderdome again.
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