By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
And so while the fine people who write for this fine website gather at the end of the year to give out awards, I thought it might be an idea to take a look at things after we’re only halfway home. Now, I would never want to step on the toes of the real end-of-year awards, so what you’ll find if you keep reading are five alternative awards.
Goodbye, “Wrestler Of The Year.” Hello, “Most Infuriating Frustration Of The Half-Year.”
Because you just never know when it comes to end-of-the-year reflection if you’ll even remember who was in what company all the way back in February. Ten months can change a lot of things, friends. A lot, a lot of things.
So, behold the very unofficial McGuire’s Monday’s Half-Year Awards. The winners will receive a signed 8X10 of Danhousen.
There are at least two things that immediately come to mind. The first is the mere creation of the Matt Cardona vs. Nick Gage program. Add into that all you’d like — the hooded appearance from Cardona who attempted to look like Jon Moxley, the fact that Cardona will probably now have light tubes smashed into his eyeballs, the truly compelling piece of business that it is — but at the core of it, nobody had Cardona/Gage on any BINGO card across all of wrestling fandom anywhere at any time.
The other, perhaps more mild runner-up for me comes in the form of seeing Jon Moxley run rampant on NJPW Strong. It was January 29 when he showed up to attack Kenta and while that feels like an eon ago, we can’t forget that today is almost six months to the day that it happened. As someone who watches Strong on a weekly basis, it injected a very welcome and very unforeseen shot of adrenaline into my wrestling-based veins.
But when all is said and done, what’s my real winner? It sounds generic, but I have to go with “fans.” As in, “we are now able to see shows with fans in 100 percent attendance and companies are going back out on the road.” I’ll be honest: I knew we were all eager to see a live crowd and I know we were all eager to be part of a live crowd; I just didn’t think it would happen at full capacity in 2021. In my mind, early 2022 was the best-case scenario.
But here we are. WrestleMania allowed tens of thousands of people into a stadium and Double Or Nothing saw the flood gates break. Independent shows are running without any real reported issues and it looks like there’s no turning back from here. I guess this is the part when I’m supposed to remind everybody that the global pandemic is still not over, but I’m tired of saying that and you’re tired of reading it.
So, instead, I’ll say kudos to the business of professional wrestling. It’s been a long road, but it appears to be back to where it always wanted to be: In front of living, breathing people.
MOST SNEAKY FUN TV CONTENT
If nothing else, this half-year has turned out to be the most fruitful time ever for wrestling documentaries on television. Between Vice’s Dark Side Of The Ring and A&E’s Biography series, I’m fairly convinced it’ll take me until Halloween before I can catch up on everything I’ve wanted to see.
Yet despite this pseudo Golden Age of Very Serious, Very Deep Looks Into Wrestlers’ Lives, I gotta tell you a dirty secret that I haven’t felt comfortable enough to say out loud in mixed company. But I’ll tell you as long as you promise not to tell anybody: WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures is just so fun to watch.
I know. I know. Cast stones if you must. But when I get to the end of my long days, and I know there are about 4,000 things I want or need to watch, what have I found myself gravitating toward? I could spend 100 minutes with the Ultimate Warrior or maybe even revisit Collision In Korea through the eyes of those who were there.
Or … I could watch that dude from Hit Row pick up Jerry Lawlor and look for Andy Kaufman’s neck brace.
For the most part, “Most Wanted” episodes are shorter than their more serious counterparts, and, I mean, come on. It’s harmless fun. Not for one second do I think Triple H is just hanging out in a warehouse FaceTiming people 10 hours a day about where he can find Brutus Beefcake’s shears … but it is kind of fun to pretend that might actually be happening, right?
Tell me it’s a work. I don’t care. When your season finale features Darius Rucker, Conrad Thompson, Charles Robinson and Ric and Charlotte Flair, you’re clearly doing something right. Don’t hate.
MOST INFURIATING FRUSTRATION
There were a couple questionable AEW moments that could wind up here. The death match explosion that turned out to be a brawl lit by sparklers. There was also the Jericho bump that I still think a lot of people miss the point on when it comes to criticizing it. But these, to be fair, were performance related and at least in the case of the former, can be chalked up as a mistake.
Then, as is the case with every wrestling fan, frustrations abound when it comes to pushes or titles or any of that nonsense. I do think Drew McIntyre should have been given a do-over with his WrestleMania moment, but my guess is they are saving that for the first full-capacity stadium show, which will be SummerSlam. With as many tag-teams as AEW has, it’d be nice to see some shine in the form of gold given to a team other than the Bucks. And what the hell is going on with Shayna Baszler?
And finally, in the runners-up category, there are a couple typical things that invite frustration. One is whatever Alexa Bliss has become and how she went from one of the most improved wrestlers on the roster to someone who can now list “hypnosis” as a finishing move. The other for me, though I know many don’t agree, is the sharing of talent between AEW, Impact and NJPW. The novelty has worn off and I just want to know who’s under contract where.
But do you want to know the truly most infuriating frustration of the first half of 2021 in the wrestling world? WWE’s layoffs. I understand that it’s become commonplace for the company to let wrestlers go after WrestleMania passes and everything kind of resets, but this year’s batch of let-go performers hit a little different this time. Braun Strowman has always seemed to be the prototype for what Vince McMahon wants and it’s outright absurd to think WWE couldn’t do something major with him. Aleister Black is so unbelievably talented and it boggles my mind how his transition from NXT to the main roster didn’t go not even well, but just OK.
The biggest frustration, though? Samoa Joe. And here’s why: After transitioning into a commentator’s role, it turned out we learned he can excel at pretty much anything he wants, because he did a superb job with the headset. Then, they told him to get out. So, he got out. Then, they said whoops. Don’t go. And Triple H wrangled him back into NXT as an enforcer character to William Regal’s GM role. The frustration?
WWE never used him with any significance anyway. Or, maybe I shouldn’t say never, but they didn’t do it often, even when they had a healthy Joe. It always felt like he was at the top of the mid-card, constantly flirting with pushing through that proposed glass ceiling. Imagine if he got cleared to wrestle and ended up in Japan — or even the obvious one, AEW? Heading back to WWE, even if it is under the NXT guise, is frustrating for all of us who love Joe’s work. Here’s hoping he makes the most of it.
The top three pay-per-views of 2021 so far, to me, go like this: 1. Double Or Nothing. 2. Double Or Nothing. 3. Double Or Nothing. And by the time we get to 2022, I can’t imagine that list changing.
You can attribute it to the wrestling and you wouldn’t be off-base. There were some really great matches on it and I thought it featured a special, overdue moment for Dr. Britt Baker as she won the AEW Women’s Title. You can also play off the spectacle of the proceedings — the second Stadium Stampede match was innocent fun, and it’s always nice to see a celebrity pop up here or there, like Urban Meyer did.
But we all know the reason why this show was the best of the year so far: The fans. It was 15 months of pent-up enthusiasm released all in the matter of four hours on a Sunday night in May. AEW’s crowds are always up to play their part in the magic that is live professional wrestling, but this time was different. The veracity, the inspiration, the noise, the passion … I could go on forever, but watching that show was the living, breathing definition of “Oh, wow, I wish I was there.”
Though even if you weren’t there, that energy still translated through the screen. WWE can claim that they might have had the first crowd of substance when it comes to numbers back at WrestleMania; WWE, however, cannot claim it had the first crowd back. As in, back. As in, oh we missed this.
Double Or Nothing accomplished that. And AEW, as well as its fans, should be proud of as much.
TWEET OF THE HALF-YEAR
I have a very minimal/embarrassing Twitter following. I’m OK with that because I don’t believe much in Twitter. But one thing I’ve tried to do since starting that Twitter account is scroll through each day, look at something one of the 100 people I follow posted and proclaim it, egotistically, the Tweet Of The Day. Naturally, nobody sees this because hardly anyone follows me, so it cracks me up in that weird intersection-between-stupid-
In any case, I thought I’d end this half-year award ceremony by looking at a few of the truly great tweets of 2021 so far — not the least of which is one that proclaimed I wrote “legitimately one of the worst articles I’ve ever read,” after said reader took in one of these Monday columns. That will probably get my vote for tweet of the year when it’s time.
Outside of that, though, one of the best came on May 15 when The Angle Podcast tweeted “All of this. A great tribute by @HeymanHustle #TalkingSmack.” Attached was the video of Paul Heyman eulogizing New Jack in a way that only Paul Heyman, the best orator of his generation, can do. Even when I watch the video today, I tear up. And when The Angle Podcast says “All of this,” it doesn’t get any more accurate.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out a tweet from April 12, when the official Twitter account for Pabst Blue Ribbon tweeted out “PBR is the Jeff Jarrett of beers. And while it’s awfully hard to explain exactly what that means, I feel like we all know exactly what that means. Insert the chorus to “With My Baby Tonight.”
But in terms of favorite, I’ve got two. First up is April 22, when Triple H, who never seems to do this kind of stuff in this manner, publicly came out and apologized to Mickie James for having her stuff sent back to her in a garbage bag after being let go by WWE. “Upon learning of the disrespectful treatment some of our recently released talent received on behalf of the company, we took immediate action,” he wrote. “The person responsible for this inconsiderate action has been fired and is no longer with @WWE.”
“Zombies …. ZOMBIES? Wow that just set wrestling back 30 years.”
Ahhh, Twitter. Where would we be without it?