By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
This week in professional wrestling was, unabashedly, a tale of two cities. WWE held its Super Showdown special while AEW presented its first pay-per-view of the year, Revolution. And, indeed, that’s exactly what the show was, especially considering the show that happened the day before.
Let’s start with *takes deep breath* Super Show Down.
The main matches advertised for WWE’s return to Saudi Arabia (despite allegedly kinda/sorta being detained the last time they were there) was a gauntlet match for a trophy I don’t care enough about enough to find out how to spell, a WWE Championship match between Brock Lesnar and Ricochet, and a WWE Universal Championship match between The Fiend and the returning Bill Goldberg. Nobody really cared about the results of the gauntlet match and fans pretty much expected the worst when it came to Lesnar vs. Ricochet. That’s exactly what they got, as Ricochet got no offense in before Lesnar F5’d him after 90 seconds. The result wasn’t surprising, but the execution was disappointing. The same cannot be said about the main event, however. That’s because the result was surprising (but the execution was also still disappointing).
Goldberg, the retired former WCW Champion and WWE Hall of Famer, who first rose to stardom literally 22 years ago, pinned “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt for the WWE Universal Championship. All it took was a handful of spears and a poorly-executed-but-could-have-been-worse Jackhammer. Those two moves are what put The Fiend down for good, handing him his first loss since the resurgence of the character.
Naturally, this did not go over well with fans online.
A couple months ago, I wrote an article about cutting some slack to the stars of yesteryear if they want to return once in a while to reclaim whatever glory their name still represents.
“As the years pass and the profession evolves and audiences continue to flock to whatever is new and shiny and different, it’s easy to forget about the stars from yesteryear, even megastars like Bret Hart and Goldberg. That’s why these guys and girls return year after year, anniversary show after anniversary show or, in some cases, WrestleMania after WrestleMania. They want to still feel like they’re a part of the only world they’ve ever known.”
I still stand by those words and had no problem with Goldberg coming out at SummerSlam to beat up Dolph Ziggler. I liked seeing Goldberg wrestle. I even allowed myself to fall into the hype of Goldberg vs. The Undertaker at the last Saudi show. The match itself was a train wreck, but it was still The Undertaker and Goldberg. And sometimes it’s okay to be a little nostalgic.
In that same article, a few paragraphs later, however, I wrote this:
“We don’t get to decide when their stories have been written – they do. And no, I don’t want Goldberg wrestling The Fiend for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. But if wrestling a match once a year lets him and people like him feel like they still belong, like they still matter, like we haven’t forgotten about them, who are we to tell them no?”
Well, it didn’t happen at WrestleMania, but we eventually did end up seeing Goldberg take on The Fiend for the Universal Championship. And Goldberg won.
And it was a mistake.
The following night on Smackdown, Goldberg asked the proverbial question, ‘Who’s Next?’ and Roman Reigns said it was him. The result will be a Universal Championship match at WrestleMania between Reigns and Goldberg.
And it’s a mistake.
It’s a mistake because we all know Roman Reigns is going to win, reclaiming his spot at the top of the card – a spot that many fans still don’t want to see him occupy. It’s a mistake because Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, and Daniel Bryan – the three men who should be the focus of WWE – couldn’t defeat The Fiend after multiple finishing moves and an exorbitant amount of damage. Goldberg beat him after a few spears and a Jackhammer. This means that WWE wants audiences to view Goldberg on a higher level as those aforementioned stars, which is bad. But since Brock Lesnar is the one man in WWE to have beaten Goldberg. That means Lesnar is on a higher level, still. Which is worse.
More than anything, giving Goldberg the title was a mistake because now the two champions going into WWE’s biggest show of the year are Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, stars from almost 20 years ago.
Compare that to the title match from AEW Revolution. Chris Jericho was the champion, defending against Roman Reigns’ former BFF, Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose). Jericho, much like Goldberg and Lesnar, is also a star from 20 years ago. But the biggest difference between Jericho compared to Lesnar and Goldberg is that Jericho constantly reinvents himself, constantly thinks outside of the box, constantly puts on athletic, entertaining matches and, most importantly, constantly puts over younger talent.
And that’s the biggest difference right now between AEW and WWE. While WWE is intent having The Undertaker pin AJ Styles, Chris Jericho is losing to Jon Moxley – a guy who has all of the talent and charisma to be a megastar in his own right, if given the opportunity. Jericho, and AEW by extension, gave Moxley that opportunity. Maybe he’ll run with it. Maybe he’ll fail. But at least AEW took a chance.
That’s what I love most about AEW. They take chances. They take risks. They’re not afraid to try something new. It would have been easy for The Young Bucks to defeat Kenny Omega and Adam Page for the AEW Tag Titles. They’re the actual team, anyway. Right? But instead of doing the easy thing, they continued the story with Omega and Page (along with The Bucks), because they know that, at the end of this story, Page will be the star to come out of it. Omega and The Bucks already are stars. And by giving the proverbial ‘rub’ to Page, they set him, and themselves, up for the future.
The same thing happened in the match between Cody and MJF. If this were WWE, Cody would have firmly defeated his enemy and moved on to someone or something else. It would have been the easy thing, letting the hero defeat his biggest villain. But instead of Cody winning a match and ending the story, MJF did and, in doing so, became an even bigger star because of it.
Elsewhere on the card, Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, Pac, and Orange Cassidy almost stole the entire show. Jericho may have brought in more eyes to the AEW show, but those eyes bore witness to the rise of a handful of legends-to-be and that’s exactly what somebody in his position should be doing. It’s what stars like John Cena, Edge, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and Goldberg could be doing – if Vince would allow them to. But, to do that, he’d have to trust in the future of his company and, by all accounts, that’s not something he’s willing or able to do. It’s known that Vince doesn’t even watch the NXT shows on a regular basis. If he can’t be bothered to even spend a couple hours watching the supposed future of his company, why should fans have any faith that he would actually invest in the future of his company?
There is a place in WWE for its legends. Goldberg, by all means, should be able to come back when he wants to a put in a few minutes of work at a big show. But he shouldn’t be wrestling for championships. Brock Lesnar shouldn’t be pinning legitimately extraordinary athletes (Kofi, Ricochet) in under three minutes. The Undertaker shouldn’t be chokeslamming and pinning AJ Styles without even f—ing losing his hat. And, yes, eventually we’d like to believe Styles will get his win back. But we thought Kofi Kingston might get his win back too, and he hasn’t even been bothered to talk about losing to Lesnar (not his fault, I’m sure). There is a place for the legends of WWE – it just shouldn’t come at the expense of the current stars.
AEW, to their credit, are utilizing legends fairly well. Case in point of this is the reemergence of Jake “The Snake” Roberts as a foil for Cody Rhodes. By all accounts, Roberts will be managing/mentoring a new star that will challenge Cody and that’s such a perfect position for The Snake. He is able to put his voice, and his mind, to work while giving the proverbial ‘rub’ to somebody who could be a future star. That is how legends should be used in pro wrestling.
Business aside, it was great to see Roberts again. His story is such an incredible one and it really was amazing to see The Snake get to perform again. He was this close to being just another wrestling tragedy – but he put in the work to get himself right and now, hopefully, he is able to have some fun in wrestling again while building a bit of a retirement nest egg. God knows he deserves it.
Speaking of deserves, nobody in the wrestling world deserves an opportunity on a national stage like Colt Cabana does. Without meaning even meaning to do so, he changed the landscape of professional wrestling with his Art of Wrestling podcast and he still hasn’t been given the credit he deserves for that. He, too, has put in the time and the work and he deserves every dollar that Tony Khan is paying him. He’s one of the good guys of the wrestling business, and it’s nice to see the good guys get rewarded every now and then.
And on that note, I bid you adieu. I hate that this column was so negative, but sometimes WWE leaves us no choice. But make no mistake, there’s still a lot to love about pro wrestling. WrestleMania, despite its headlining champions, will absolutely be a show to remember. We really are in the midst of the best of times, and the worst of times but, as wrestling fans, we wouldn’t have it any other way.