By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
But, to anyone out there who might still be reading …
A BAD ENDING TO A GOOD MATCH
AEW’s version of a WarGames match called Blood and Guts (trademarks, pal) was a mixed bag. Putting the top back on the cage after WWE bastardized the original concept? Success. Figuring out a way to leave the cage and have a couple wrestlers fight their way to the top of it? Failure.
Above all else, though, the final five to ten minutes of the thing will be what it’s remembered for most as last Wednesday’s memory grows older. MJF’s bloodied, impassioned face as it stares into the ether? Success. Chris Jericho’s leap onto what was so clearly exposed as a crash pad or cardboard boxes or whatever you want to say it was? Failure.
Why? Because we were conditioned to think in the weeks leading up to the Blood and Guts match that this was going to be the most violent thing ever broadcast on cable television. And, to be fair, it really was pretty violent for the most part. Lots of blood. Lots of furniture. Lots of scary-looking spots.
But if you’re going to have the climax be a moment that exposes the whole ordeal … well, what are we even doing out here? In one fell swoop, the production went from an intense, hateful battle with high stakes involved to just another stunt show with an ending that, no matter how much and how hard Jericho sold it, completely took me out of the moment, and in a lot of ways, put a stain on the whole hour.
Now, with that said …
… I liked the story they told and clearly are still telling. Sammy Guevara surrendering for the team to ensure that Jericho wouldn’t be thrown off the cage lends itself to future angles. MJF still throwing Jericho off the cage, even though the match ended, obviously means The Pinnacle and the Inner Circle are far from done with each other, and that’s a good thing.
Plus, my goodness, when you stop to think about how much the brass at AEW believe in MJF, it really is kind of breathtaking. He was the one to ensure that Cody Rhodes will never be the company’s world champion. He barely ever loses. He’s the leader of a faction with one of the best tag teams in the world and a former Four Horseman in it. This isn’t the first time he’s beat Jericho. And now this, a star-making performance that established him as someone who has officially taken the step into the next stratosphere, which also happens to be a stratosphere with rarified air. If WWE needs lessons on how to make younger talent — and WWE desperately does need lessons on how to make younger talent — just follow the MJF playbook.
But back to the matter at hand. The story is easy to tell and easy to process, reminding everyone that the best pro wrestling tales never have to be filled with shocks, surprises, twists, turns and impossibilities. What makes the story here even better is the reality that, in my mind, a match like Blood and Guts deserves more of a build than it received throughout the last month or so. My fear was that the decision-makers would blow off a feud that could easily take you through a year or more after a couple months.
That’s obviously not the case, as Wednesday’s ending leaves the door open for so much more. Maybe we get Sammy and MJF for the next few weeks while Jericho sells the fall. Santana and Ortiz working with FTR could be a sleeper candidate for tag-team feud of the year if they want it to be. Then there’s Wardlow and Jake Hager, and even though we’ve already seen it, I could stand to see it again. Spears, meanwhile, could do anything he wants and insert himself in wherever he sees fit. Then, before you know it, Jericho makes his triumphant return and we set up some type of unique match with some type of unique stipulation.
It’s all to say that at the end of the day, the ending of last week’s Dynamite did more good than bad. But speaking of doing bad …
One thing came to mind as I watched the fake floor do an awful job at covering up the cushioning underneath it and it’s something I said before in the wake of explosion-gate at Revolution. Nobody gives WWE a pass for anything. From the most mundane things, to the obvious things, to the big things, to the little things, why do so many people take every shot they can take, every possible time they can take it, and yet when AEW happens across a misstep, it’s easy to explain that away? Or, worse yet, because WWE’s mistakes appear to be so clear, and WWE is so unrelenting when it comes to things that clearly don’t work, why does any potential conversation about an AEW misfire always seem to turn back to whatever WWE is doing poorly?
Yeah, The Fiend stuff sucks. Sure, I don’t know what the hell is going on with Alexa Bliss, but my guess is that it’s not going to lead to great things. The way the creative forces did Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander was criminal and why they aren’t a tag-team anymore is baffling. Retribution was a joke. Yeah, we get it. All these things are true.
But the more conversations I find myself in about anything AEW does that isn’t necessarily perfect, the more I hear people say, “Yeah, we saw Jericho fall onto cardboard boxes. That could have been better. But The Fiend was burned alive! And then he came back! That’s so dumb!”
Picking on WWE is low-hanging fruit. Picking on AEW, though? It’s almost unacceptable. These things are not binary. We should be able to have intellectual dialogue about wrestling and companies and bookers and stories and say “The Fiend sucks,” and “Seeing the crash pad sucks.” One has nothing to do with the other, outside of some perceived battle between companies — which, by the way is nonsense, because now more than ever, companies collaborate with one another, so quit obsessing over how your favorite years as a wrestling fan came when two shows on Monday nights engaged in some type of perceived “war.”
There’s space to be critical of everything without being insulting and without drawing lines in the sand. The way things work these days, however, suggests that there’s no room to grow. I think it’d be great if AEW learned from things like an exposed landing spot and exploding barbed wire that doesn’t explode, but how can we even believe that’s possible, if any criticism is dismissed for reasons that aren’t quite outlined? Then again, who in any wrestling promotion really cares about what a guy on a website is saying about a moment that happened five days ago?
The answer is probably nobody. Still, maybe a carrier pigeon can tell someone in any company — not just AEW and WWE — this …
Can we stop with the stunts? Don’t get me wrong. I like a good spectacle. There’s a certain fun that goes into Shane McMahon matches because you know something absurd is going to happen. And I was as excited as anybody for both the Blood and Guts match, and the exploding barbed wire death match back in March. The Mick Foley off-the-cage bump still gives me chills. I could go on and on.
But is it me, or is the wrestling business becoming too reliant on one-upping itself when it comes to these big bumps? The focus seems to be so heavy on originality and risk-taking and the heights get higher, the room for error diminishes and before long, someone on a big stage is going to get hurt in a big way and we’re going to have another tragedy on our hands in the wrestling world.
So, why do it? It doesn’t have to be all Dory Funk Jr. and Jack Brisco all the time, but the further away professional wrestling gets from, well, professional wrestling, the more we become immune to seeing things like Jericho’s fall last week. Which, to me, affirms my point: Why do this if it’s not even being appreciated as much as it once was or could even be now because we see stuff like this every few weeks?
Blood and Guts was a pretty good match (save for the commercial breaks, which we learned really don’t work for something like this), and it was so much of what it promised it would be. The longer it went, the more I was sucked in, the more invested I became. Why not figure out a way to tell the same story, keeping all the options open, without having to take the fight outside the cage and without having to throw Jericho off the top of it? In a lot of ways, what happened protected everyone involved, but is that necessarily a good thing? Why couldn’t we have a decisive winner and a decisive loser?
But we didn’t get it. So, now what? Well, the thing about running an hour-long Blood and Guts match is that there aren’t many places to go from there. Booking something like a falls count anywhere match seems a bit tame now. And if you look at AEW’s rankings, MJF hasn’t even been in the top five for weeks, so it doesn’t seem like he’s poised to be in the title picture soon. That said, if Jericho is back soon, that’d be a waste. So, what’s left to do?
I guess someone will have to put a career on the line or something. Considering the way this feud has turned out so far, it really would be satisfying to see MJF get his comeuppance, so if this is going down the traditional path, I suspect that will happen. If it doesn’t, expect another one of these columns wondering aloud why MJF never loses. He can talk his heat back whenever he wants to, and AEW has already done a great job building him, so it’s tough to think he’d lose anything if he comes out the loser of the Jericho and MJF saga.
That said, let us not forget that Jericho put over Orange Cassidy last year, so maybe that’s what ultimately happens here, too. With the country gradually opening up again, you have to think Jericho wants to get Fozzy back on the road, so maybe it’s a loser-leaves-town situation, Jericho goes away for six months and then comes back with a bang, attacking MJF after MJF somehow winds up with a title. Who knows.
Whatever it is, my only hope is that at some point, those two can just get in the middle of the ring and have a wrestling match. No crash pads. No furniture. Shoot. Make it so there’s no interference from either faction, too. Moderation is a virtue in professional wrestling and, save for all the blood, we already see too much of what Blood and Guts gave us too often from every other company under the sun, in the first place.
Pro wrestling has always been somewhat of a novelty in popular culture anyway. Who could have ever thunk that one day, it would become a novelty in the context of its own business?