By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
Hello friends, neighbors, readers, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen. Hi Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. My name is Nick Perkins and I am your flag-bearer, your Paul Bearer, your Ring Bearer in the world of professional wrestling. Take my hand and follow me as I lead you through the week that was. We’re delving into the highs, lows, mediums and ‘mehs’ of pro wrestling and there is nowhere I would rather be than right here, right now, with you. Whether you’re an old fan, a new fan, or you land somewhere in the middle and just hate-watch these shows out of habit, I am proud to be the bearer of good news, bad news and the downright ugly news from WWE, AEW, ROH, Impact and more. With that being said, let’s step through the ropes and into the proverbial ring, as Pro Wrestling Dot Net presents Ring Bearer: Exploring the Week that Was in Professional Wrestling.
The Christmas season is upon us and that can mean only one thing – wrestling is about as uninspired as it’s going to be all year. The road to WrestleMania is paved with mediocrity at times and it seems as though even the Royal Rumble doesn’t stir the same sense of excitement that it once did. Off the top of my head, I cannot even recall who won either the men’s or women’s rumble last year. Was it Seth Rollins? Becky Lynch? Ronda Rousey? I don’t remember. And I don’t care. The Royal Rumble used to be a spectacle. It was a match full of surprises and it was designed to get audiences firmly behind the eventual winner. The Rumble did wonders for Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Batista and more. It was the first step in the passing of the torch to a new headliner. These days? These days we can barely muster enough excitement (or energy- these shows are like nine hours long) to even cheer whoever ends up winning. And even if the winner is somebody the crowd can get behind, instead of getting excited, the first thought many of us have is “Great, how are they going to screw this up?”
Was it Kofi Kingston? Did Kofi with the Rumble last year?
Stories matter. And, unfortunately, the stories of professional wrestling, the truly great ones, are becoming even fewer and far between.
I was listening to Chris Jericho’s latest podcast and he had Vince Russo as a guest. Russo has sort of become persona-non-grata in the world of professional wrestling, but I’ve always been fascinated by the guy. Russo worked as a radio host before he was hired by WWF Magazine. He turned a magazine writing gig into a television writing gig and was, for a handful of years, Vince McMahon’s right hand man. Since that time, Russo has been marred in controversy for some of the more asinine ideas that took place in WCW and TNA (Judy Bagwell on a forklift, Goldberg turning heel, and the S.E.X. faction to name a few).
He was also the first person to question Hulk Hogan’s character and integrity on-air. He was at least partly responsible for the success of The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, DX, and more. He made us care about characters like Goldust, Val Venis, and Crash Holly. Granted, a lot of his stories were cringeworthy at best, but at least they were stories. Compare that to today, where every story, if there even is a story, reads the same as every other story being told.
Russo has stated countless times over the years that the actual wrestling matters less than stories. While his stance is a controversial one, he’s not entirely wrong. There is a reason that millions of people were watching Steve Austin stand up to his domineering boss. There is a reason that The Rock became the superstar in and out of the ring that he is today. There is a reason why The Undertaker and Kane held audiences in the palms of their leather glove-wearing hands. That reason is not because they were great wrestlers. It’s because they were great storytellers.
Right now, in terms of actual wrestling, we are at a peak. Wrestlers like Daniel Bryan, Johnny Gargano, Adam Cole, Finn Balor, Keith Lee, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi and so many more are putting on classics every single time they step into the ring. Wrestling for wrestling’s sake has never been better. So why aren’t more people watching? Why isn’t wrestling as hot as it was in 1998? The wrestling today is lightyears above where it was 20 years ago. So why aren’t people watching? It’s because those in charge of the major pro wrestling companies have lost their ability to tell engrossing stories. Whether it’s because of greed, ego, or something else entirely, good stories are not being developed.
Of course, there are exceptions. The over-arching story involving Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano is, for my money, the best professional wrestling story of the decade. It had twists, turns, happy endings and epilogues. It was peak professional wrestling.
I would love to include the story of Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan on the list too but, much like a Stephen King novel, they just weren’t able to stick the landing. Kofi Kingston being overlooked for a decade, only for fate to shine a spotlight on him leading to a WrestleMania main event and title win should have been a great story. But at the end of Kingston’s happily-ever-after, a new bad guy entered the story and murdered him in 10 seconds. Not exactly a feel-good moment. Daniel Bryan could have been (and maybe, possibly could still be) the single greatest real-life story WWE has ever told. A guy who was never supposed to make it in the machine that is WWE overcoming the odds, getting his WrestleMania Moment, being forced to retire but eventually returning to the ring is about as close to a movie as WWE will ever get. But they screwed that up too by haphazardly turning Bryan heel and making him a bad guy because he cares about the environment. It’s like for every step forward WWE makes, they take 15 steps back.
AEW isn’t immune to this either. Currently, there are three separate “join us” storylines happening simultaneously. Those are the three main stories in AEW and none of them are particularly interesting. The feud between Cody and MJF has lost considerable steam since Full Gear and every other aspect of the show is just wrestling for the sake of wrestling. We know next to nothing about Kenny Omega and he was, at one point, the biggest non-WWE star in the world. But what’s his story? Why is he in AEW? What are his goals? What are his fears? There are so many different directions to take his character, but AEW is choosing to just let him coast.
Somebody can be the best wrestler in the world, but if there isn’t a story, there isn’t a reason to care about him or her. Flashy moves and incredible athleticism can only get somebody so far. Fans need to have a reason to believe in a wrestler. They need a reason to want to see them win. Happy endings are important, but it’s the story leading up to them that matter most. Vince Russo understood that. And for as much scorn as the guy receives from the wrestling internet, he was writing the stories that captured the attention of millions of people 20 years ago. Wrestling has never been as popular as it was when he was helping to write it. So let’s cut the dude some slack, yea? His heart is in the right place, even if his head is usually up his ass.
Speaking of ass, was that Dark Order segment of Dynamite ass or what? I enjoy the vignettes AEW produces for this group, but they do absolutely nothing for me inside of a wrestling ring. They look like the foot clan from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and unless there’s a shocking turn from somebody into Shredder, I don’t see this act catching on.
WWE TLC was completely missable. I mean that literally. I didn’t watch it. I read the results and checked in on the Buddy Murphy vs Aleister Black and Daniel Bryan’s return, but the rest of it just simply didn’t interest me.
Neither did the following night’s Raw or anything on NXT besides the two title matches. The same can be said for this week’s episode of AEW Dynamite. Maybe I’m just burnt out on wrestling or maybe this is the calm before the storm of WrestleMania season, but I just was not interested in anything that was put out this week, except for the two main matches on NXT – both of which delivered in spades. Rhea Ripley is a diamond in the rough of a fledgling women’s division and any combination of Finn Balor and Adam Cole can do no wrong, even if the story was missing.
And that’s it for this week, wrestling fans. I hope the holidays find you and yours well. My girlfriend and I are far away from home for the first time in our lives this Christmas, so we’re going exchange presents with each other and watch Batman Returns, which is more of a Christmas movie than Die Hard. Don’t @ me. Actually, do. Check the Twitter handle at the top of this article. Merry Happy Whatever, everybody.