By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
And then there’s the WWE, which held what used to be called pay-per-views, but are now called … Just Another Thing On Peacock? I don’t know. Either way, Extreme Rules happened and it was so extreme that we had only one match with an extreme stipulation attached to it. No matter. Because a women’s champ ripped up a doll, the top rope broke and Sasha Banks returned.
There was ECW. And then there was this.
Anyway, coming out of the last seven days, I had a few questions I wanted to ask. And because I figured there’s no better place than Dot Net, and there’s no better time than now … well, here you go. So, let’s see if we can find some answers. Probably not. But that’s half the fun.
1. HOW MUCH DO WE STILL BELIEVE IN RANKINGS?
Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega on last week’s Dynamite had to happen. It was the dream match you and me and everybody in between wanted to see once it became clear that Danielson was AEW bound. You don’t spend all that money and acquire all that star power only to have a guy like that beat Wheeler Yuta on AEW Dark in 90 seconds. And, as it goes, Kenny Omega happens to be AEW World Champion right now. But there’s a problem. That problem?
Going into last Wednesday’s showdown, Danielson’s AEW record stood squarely at 0-0.
So, kudos for at least having the wherewithal to book a non-title match, but after wrestling to a 30-minute draw, doesn’t it seem like we’re going to need to run this back sooner than later? And if you do, would it be for the world title? Let’s be honest. The No. 1 contender as of this writing is Orange Cassidy, who is 16-1-1 this year and 42-12-2 overall. Jungle Boy, who’s ranked No. 5, has a total of 60 wins in his AEW career.
So, how do you justify putting someone with an 0-0-1 record in a title match if you want your rankings to have credibility? Plus, let’s be honest. The conundrum here isn’t necessarily that someone might jump the line; rather, it’s that nobody wants to see any of those other matches more than they’d want to see Omega vs. Danielson again. So what do you sacrifice — the rankings system or the fans’ hopes?
Granted, you can tell me it’s wrestling and it’s all nonsense anyway, and that’s fine. There has forever been and will always be shady/baffling/unreliable things about this business. But when AEW began, the message was clear that the braintrust wanted to treat the company more like a sport — more like wrestling — than, say, something like sports entertainment.
But with the Danielson issue, what do you do? Have him squash three dudes at a time on Dark and Dark Elevation for the next three months just to justify him having a shot at the belt in January? The same could be said for CM Punk — don’t we want to see him in the main event picture at some point, too? Thank God for the Casino Battle Royale, because getting Ruby Soho and Britt Baker in the ring ASAP was what we all wanted to see, and you could at least justify that via the battle royal that Soho won.
Danielson, though? This one is going to be a bit more tricky.
2. WHO IS BECKY LYNCH SUPPOSED TO BE?
I’m of two minds with the Becky Lynch heel turn. One, us wrestling fans are fickle, so my guess is that it wouldn’t have taken long before the honeymoon would have worn out on Becky’s return as a full babyface and then we would have found ourselves in Roman Reigns babyface territory, where people start to boo her and she just keeps smiling. So making her a heel is sort of getting ahead of the game, which I can understand and respect.
The other side of that, though, is that if you would have allowed a heel turn to happen organically, perhaps it would have worked out a little, if not a lot, better. One approach would have been to have the fans organically start to boo her for months before she snapped and said, “Fine, to hell with you, too.” From there, you would have had Roman Reigns heat (that said, however, nobody was going to boo Bianca Belair, so if you’re WWE, and you’re bringing back Becky on short notice, you gotta do what you gotta do).
Still, with all that said, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out who the hell this version of Becky Lynch is. The gimmick is … wear outlandish coats and sunglasses wherever you go? Be a little arrogant? Go after the babyface champion, because … I don’t know … you were the champion and you never lost the championship to begin with, so heel or babyface, it doesn’t matter who has it because you’re going to get it back?
It’s all so forced. And the best Becky is not cocky Becky; it’s badass Becky. The character now feels like it wants to be both, but the cockiness oftentimes feels like a put-on and above all else, it takes away from how sharp of an edge Lynch used to have. It reminds me of the time Stone Cold turned heel, reportedly only because he wanted to and Vince McMahon said he owed Austin the opportunity. It’s also not unlike Miro’s debut in AEW, when he came in as the lost Best Man and has since returned to badass Miro, who has also become one of the best things in the company.
Will we get that eventual turnaround from Becky? I hope so. The more interviews I see with her, the more it feels like I’m not the only one wondering what exactly it is she’s shooting for when she cuts promos or sits down with media outlets. Badass Becky connected with fans because everyone felt like they knew her. They could relate to being pissed off and much like the Stone Cold formula, Becky could back it up. This iteration of Lynch, though? Two tin cans and a piece of string would have more connection than Lynch does with her audience right now.
Definition in wrestling can be a good thing.
3. WAS IT WORTH IT TO SACRIFICE THE DEMON?
All right. Don’t worry. I won’t get too precious about the Demon persona of Finn Balor. I hook-line-and-sinker buy into undefeated gimmicks or streaks or whatever else you want to call them. I’m probably in the minority, but I think they’re good for the big picture. Goldberg, Fiend, Demon — give ’em all to me. I’ll be irrationally invested.
But what in the name of Prince Devitt was that malarkey on Sunday night? The Demon is standing on the top rope for what feels like three months to land the Coup De Gras and wouldn’t you know it, those ropes just collapsed. Odd, considering how Otis could climb the same ropes without worry, and Otis is twice Balor’s size. But hell. WWE needed an out for the Demon, so WWE was going to get one, gosh darn-it.
What hit me the most was that even as I watched the Demon fire up nicely between the pumped-in hart palpitation noises and the red lights, I still never thought the outcome was in question. At most, he’d acquire Roman’s belt, lose it as Finn Balor on Friday and then everyone goes to Saudi Arabia in precisely the ways Vince McMahon demands (i.e., Roman vs. Brock), all while the Demon persona keeps its dominance alive.
Instead, the ropes broke.
It’s a shame because I really do believe in Finn Balor, no matter what incarnation he explores. He got his edge back in NXT, he’s not grinning anymore, his in-ring work is exceptional and I firmly think he should be near the top of every card, always and forever. But it just doesn’t feel like the WWE main roster has ever known what to do with him once he suffered an injury while winning the Universal Title. After the loss Sunday night, I’d bet anyone a year’s worth of pizza that we’ll be seeing Balor take losses to Apollo Crews on WWE Main Event in six weeks.
The problem then would be, where do you go from there? NXT 2.0 has been adamant that it’s not going to be the safe haven for main roster people who want to go back to the good old days anymore because it’s focusing on the developmental talent and nothing else. Plus, Balor’s dark aura served him well in an NXT that was aesthetically as dark as it gets. Unless if Balor is grinning all the time, I’m not so sure 2.0 would be the right fit for him.
So, now what? Who knows. I can only hope this doesn’t mean a future filled with four-minute, six-man tag matches that people forget about the second they see the next Marvel movie commercial.
4. WHY DID WWE LET GO OF FRED ROSSER?
Actually, why does WWE let go of 80 percent of the wrestlers it lets go? That’s an answer we’ll never understand. But the former Darren Young has felt reincarnated during his time in NJPW. Having been in New Japan for a little more than a year, he’s held up NJPW Strong as well as, or better than anyone else on the company’s U.S. roster — especially through the pandemic, when Strong was being taped in an empty, nearly silent studio.
Of all the good things that happen on that program, one of the most overlooked is the reality that Rosser has moved from one feud to the next in a seamless manner, and yet somehow, by the time they start to heat up, the blow-offs feel important. A lot of feuds can come and go on week-to-week TV, and to be fair, on Strong, some feel thrown together and torn apart hastily. Everything that Rosser has been in, however, has come across as meaningful for everyone involved, including Ren Narita, who beat Rosser on Saturday’s latest episode of Strong.
Speaking of Strong and Rosser, though, it is peak time to pick up NJPW, just in case you need a little reminder. Not only is Strong taping in front of crowds in the U.S., but we are knee-deep into the G1 Climax, which never disappoints. Just in case you want to pick it up, but are getting to it late, Jeff Cobb is leading the B Block with four points while Great-O-Khan is heading up the A Block with eight points. Night six of the tournament is set for Wednesday and will feature Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tama Tonga as well as Kirooki Goto vs. Jeff Cobb.
With all the forbidden door talk, and all the very interesting things going on in every corner of the professional wrestling world, getting acquainted with what NJPW has going on couldn’t possibly be a bad thing. Add in a Will Ospreay return, Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston coming to Strong and a G1 that is low-key stealing the wrestling week in the U.S., and what you have is a product that’s almost can’t-miss.
5. WILL AEW FANS EVER LIKE CODY RHODES AGAIN?
The baton had to be passed and the torch needed to be picked up somehow. The role of “booing a top babyface” had been stagnant for too long, ever since Roman Reigns found Paul Heyman more than a year ago and became the best thing in WWE. Lo and behold, who knew that torch could be passed between companies?
Cody finds himself in precisely that position, though, as his match with Malakai Black on Wednesday’s Dynamite sure did establish the EVP as The One People Just Don’t Like Anymore. Oddly, Cody has been there before in AEW, and there have been times when it’s felt like he’s toeing a line that could break at any moment and provide him with a long, torturous fall to the bottom. Maybe the match with Black will end up being the official turning point between Cody and the fans; maybe it won’t. Either way, there was no denying whose side that hot crowd was on last week.
What makes this a little more intriguing than Reigns’s relationship with WWE fans is that Reigns, himself, was never really criticized. Instead, the ridicule was always thrown Vince McMahon’s way for “not using Roman correctly,” and therefore, Reigns was off the hook not only because he was just doing what he was told, but because everyone is also very ready and very happy to swat away anything Vince McMahon does.
Well, what happens in AEW, then? It seems like Tony Khan is the most popular kid in school and it doesn’t look like graduation is anywhere near imminent. Cody, meanwhile, has that nasty position within the company that some like to mock — EVP — and on top of that, AEW fans are rabid. In a good way, of course, but rabid, nonetheless. So, if they’re going to decide they don’t like you — and it’s not appreciative booing, in the way they do for someone like MJF — this could get ugly and it could get ugly quick.
To me, it boils down to something that happened Sunday night. When he knew he was heading into the crowd to fight the demon, Reigns received a mask from Paul Heyman and Reigns wore that thing as the two fought in the crowd. By now, we all know that Roman Reigns is immunocompromised, and the most responsible thing he could have done in that instance, if someone insisted the fight spill into the crowd, was wear a mask. Also, keep in mind that this comes from a company that has been bullish on even acknowledging a pandemic has been happening, keeping COVID-19 outbreaks as silent as it could for the last year and half. And here’s its biggest star donning a mask during a part of a match. Hat-tip goes to Roman for that.
But what if Reigns was still a babyface that had the reputation of being forced down our throats? What if he didn’t become cool overnight, like he did the second Heyman appeared on screen with him? Would the vitriolic, political debate about mask-wearing and COVID-19 protocol have spilled onto him among wrestling fans? Would it somehow be all anybody wanted to talk about on Monday? Would it have mattered?
Those things, we’ll never know. But what we do know is that if Cody gets to the point where Roman Reigns was three years ago, being hated, and he does it within the AEW fanbase for reasons that, much like with Roman, were never quite explained, the levels to which the hatred may grow could far outpace anything through which the WWE fans put Roman for all those years.