By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
It’s a lot of stuff.
Historically for wrestling fans, that same excitement has been centered around WrestleMania — and that’s especially considering recent years where all other companies and independent conventions circle around the host city for the weekend in hopes of gaining some rub from the mega event. Even the most passionate WWE haters will make the pilgrimage that weekend, if only to say they went to (insert city), but they didn’t go to WrestleMania and instead took in, say, a Ring of Honor show.
But, this year? Well, this year, things appear to be different.
SURPRISE! THERE’S NO SURPRISE
That’s because if there is a single stretch of days for which this year will be remembered, I believe we are smack-dab in the middle of them, and perhaps we don’t even know it. It’s like springtime for wrestling fans, and it all came about via happenstance.
Let’s begin with what we’ve already seen. Friday marked the debut of AEW’s Rampage, which was supposed to be a firecracker of an entrance and turned out to be … a pretty good show? I don’t know. In doing my live review of the show for this very website, I couldn’t help but be just a tiny bit let down, though that’s no fault of AEW.
Instead, that’s merely the bar that’s been set for AEW firsts. There was no way they could get through that hour without handing us a significant surprise, right? Well, with all due respect to Jamie Hayter — and Fuego Del Sol receiving an AEW contract — we really didn’t get the earth-shattering development we hoped to get. In its place, however, we received a very good Impact world title match and subsequent title change, an emotional moment with the aforementioned Del Sol, and Brittsburgh running wild in the most fantastic of ways.
What will Rampage be, moving forward? That’s anybody’s guess. As I noted in my review, I do fear that it becomes something akin to AEW Dark or Dark Elevation in that it’s a higher-profile training ground for B- or C-level stories. It’s hard to imagine that happening, considering this won’t be on YouTube and Turner is going to want some comparable ratings (damnit!) for its programming, but for now, the jury is out for me when it comes to buying in or buying out of the new show.
Either way, AEW’s Rampage, with all its fanfare and anticipation, was only the beginning of this stretch.
AROUND THE WORLD
The rest came Saturday night as two non-American promotions ran significant shows. One came in Mexico City when AAA offered up its tent-pole event, Triplemania, which featured Kenny Omega defending his AAA Mega Championship against Andrade El Idolo. I, of course, was under the belief that Omega would drop all his belts at once and I, of course, was wrong. Omega lost the Impact Championship to Christian Cage Friday night and then retained the AAA Mega title Saturday night.
Now, forget the report that he was initially actually supposed to lose Saturday night, but AEW stepped in to change that decision; instead, let’s focus on this craziness: This dude worked in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at 8 p.m. Friday night and somehow made it to Mexico City for a fight the next night on what … two hours of sleep? I’m not nearly as big of a fan of Omega as some people are, but my goodness, to perform on that level on back to back nights thousands of miles away from one another? Attention and respect must be paid.
Anyway, the event brought a certain level of eyeballs to the AAA product that most likely wouldn’t have checked it out otherwise. The responses I saw from both friends watching it and the Twitterverse proved that this had to be one of the more accessible and memorable Triplemania’s in recent memory. I can’t recall a time when this much American hype was centered around that event’s championship match ( and it technically wasn’t even the main event).
My only real question coming away from it? Where does Kenny Omega and that Mega Championship go from here? Andrade seemed to be the most logical choice to be the next man in line, and Omega has really only defended that thing once or twice a year (which could be a function of the pandemic, to be fair). But, what happens now? Omega is off Impact television, presumably, but you can’t call him the belt collector because he lost one (or two, if you count the TNA title), yet he still has one that is rarely acknowledged and another that he must be holding onto at All Out if AEW stepped in to make sure he didn’t look weak by losing two nights in a row at Triplemania.
Then again, he could gain back another belt if he just …
… Walked through a different forbidden door.
And that brings us to Resurgence, which was the other major event Saturday night. New Japan Pro Wrestling has been doing a good job of carving out its presence in America and Saturday’s event served as somewhat of a coming out party since the pandemic sunk its teeth into everything. For me, it was also a joy to see so many NJPW Strong names on a pay-per-view, considering I’ve been watching that show and writing about that show for months now.
The big news, of course, came in the form of Will Ospreay making his return and proclaiming that he’ll be defending the championship he never lost on NJPW Strong, which is exactly the lightning bolt of star power that show has needed. Case in point: When Jon Moxley showed up on it a few months back, my anticipation for that episode was through the roof. Nothing against anyone on Team Filthy or Lio Rush or Karl Fredericks or Fred Rosser, but when Moxley or The Good Brothers or now Ospreay show up, there’s an added weight to everything around it — and that’s a good thing for everybody.
More importantly now, though, NJPW seems to be gaining ground with the American audience. We’ll be able to take the temperature of just how much ground that is when Strong begins to tape in front of crowds — another thing for which I’m excited. The only question now is if Ospreay’s title will be recognized as a real title in NJPW and if that means we’ll have two belts popping up on Strong every now and then. Tom Lawlor is the perfect champion for the NJPW Strong Openweight belt, and I hope he doesn’t lose it for a long time.
But you can’t imagine that Ospreay is going to lose his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship anytime soon, so do we just have a show that’s heel dominated? I’m not complaining; I’m just curious. Another thing I’m curious about?
THE FIRST DANCE
The things that lie ahead this week. The first of those things is going to be the second episode of AEW’s Rampage, which also happens to be the biggest crowd AEW has ever played to, and also happens to be (perhaps) the debut of CM Punk as he returns to wrestling for the first time in what feels like 5,000 years. Now, to be fair, I haven’t been that impressed with the ways AEW has debuted talent in the past. Some of it falls flat (Mark Henry and Paul “Big Show” Wight didn’t light the world on fire), while other times, it’s been truly magical (It’s Sttttttiiiiiiinnnnggg!).
So, how does Punk debut? With it being the worst-kept secret in wrestling (unless if it’s all a rib on the fans and AEW just used Internet rumors to draw its biggest house ever, in which case, I think a riot will ensue), the task of making it feel special seems like a tough one to navigate. Not that Punk’s return wouldn’t be special on face value alone, without bells and whistles to prop it up, but no matter what happens, it’s going to be impossible for me to not compare it to how it could have been if it was a total surprise and the beginning of a wild angle that nobody saw coming.
Then again, who knows? Maybe there’s a formula here that none of us can comprehend and maybe it will blow our minds? Either way, I’ll be interested to see how they handle this and I’ll be interested to see what role Punk wants to have. My fingers are crossed that somehow Christian Cage won’t be Kenny Omega’s dancing partner at All Out, and maybe CM Punk could have something to do with that. Or maybe I’m just dreaming impossible dreams.
Either way, it’s poised to be the biggest AEW show on television to date. And with very little announced in terms of a card for the company’s de facto WrestleMania in three weeks, let’s hope this jumpstarts some build for some matches come September 5. There’s a lot of expectation, and that’s often dangerous. Friday should be can’t-miss.
FEEL THE HEAT
And yet that’s not all. Because on Saturday, WWE is heading to Las Vegas for SummerSlam and Sunday, the depleted NXT is going to stage a Takeover at the Capitol Wrestling Center. So, while all the attention might be on AEW for CM Punk reasons to many wrestling fans, we can’t forget that WWE’s second-biggest pay-per-view of the year is set to go down the night after Punk’s supposed debut.
And let’s not sleep on that card, either. Roman Reigns has been beyond fantastic as a heel champion and wouldn’t you know it — turns out all types of fans missed John Cena dearly while he was gone. Bobby Lashley vs. Goldberg could be a fun mess or messy fun, depending on who you ask. Seth Rollins working with Edge is a dream match a lot of people have mulled for years now. Plus, we get Sasha/Bianca II, assuming they’re allowed to compete (their absences from this weekend’s house shows are a bit concerning).
Takeover ought to be fun, too (though I will admit that Karrion Kross’s booking on Raw the last few weeks has taken away some luster for me). I’m beyond excited to see Samoa Joe return to the ring. I have no idea how Raquel Gonzalez and Dakota Kai are going to work, but I’m certainly happy to watch it play out. Walter vs. Ilja Dragunov will undoubtedly be the match of the weekend. And we can finally put Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole’s feud to rest (I hope).
It’s all to say that between Friday, Aug. 13, and Sunday, Aug. 22 — a span of nine days, mind you — wrestling fans have been treated to the equivalent of springtime sports in America. There’s so much going on, in so many different places, and there’s so much intrigue about what will happen where … it’s something I hope we can all appreciate as we find ourselves right in the middle of such a glorious storm.
To think that only a handful of years ago, the mainstream wrestling business seemed watered down, stale, uninteresting and directionless. These days, it’s impossible to keep up with it all. So, enjoy it, friends. Everything is cyclical, so who knows how long it will last. For now, though, buckle in because a new golden age is upon us — even if it’s only for nine days.