By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
And so, with this feeling like somewhat of an apathetic time — we are still slaves to the leftover turkey from Thursday and we continue to suffer from the growing anxiety of gift-giving that the next month will bring — I figured there would be no better time than now to share my wrestling wish list for this holiday season.
Sure, none of these things were available during the Black Friday deals, and yes, using the promo code “McGMonday” will not afford me a discount on any of these things, but hey: If there’s one time of year that miracles are allowed to happen, wouldn’t that be now? So, grab some cookies, put up the Christmas tree, and pick up a pen and some paper because we’re making a list and checking it twice.
Or at least once. Maybe.
THE GIFT OF WORK
Highest on my 2021 wrestling wish list is jobs — jobs for those who either currently don’t have one or jobs for those who are about to not have one.
I read about an interview with Bryan Danielson over the last few days during which he outlined how hard it was keeping up with a $350 car payment in 2001 after he was first let go by WWE. He bought the car — used — and thought he would be able to afford the monthly payments after getting the job. The problem was (and is) that WWE doesn’t care about your stinkin’ car or your stinkin’ payments. So, they let him go and Danielson was stuck having to scramble to find work just to keep his means of transportation.
It’s hard not to look at everything happening at Ring of Honor and draw a bunch of sympathetic parallels. With so much uncertainty coming that company’s way in 2022, it’s hard to feel safe for anyone’s job on that roster, even if those talents continue to come back on an appearance-by-appearance basis. You hate to see people lose their jobs in this business, anyway, but it’s even more cutting when it’s so close to the holiday season and it comes so aggressively that it kind of flips people’s worlds upside down.
So, if there’s one thing I’d love to see happen for Christmas, it’s that all the wrestlers struggling with the ambiguity of employment heading into the near year catch a break, find work, or maybe even begin pursuing a new passion that gives them stability. More and more, we see wrestlers speak out about the importance of mental health and more and more, we see wrestlers come forward, bravely sharing their struggles with it. From an outsider’s perspective, the wrestling business has to be one of the toughest careers to take on if you are already facing things like anxiety and depression on a daily basis. Knowing that you could lose your job at any moment has got to be a tough stressor to face each day.
Therefore, my hope is that those feeling the pinch from the Ring of Honor situation — as well as those affected by the sporadic, reckless WWE releases that seem to come at a moment’s notice — can find peace, happiness and a steady paycheck sooner rather than later. A lot of people say this is one of the best times to be involved with wrestling in several years, and if that’s the case, it’d be great if the business took care of its own when it comes to unemployment and injuries that jeopardize a wrestler’s ability to make money (Danhausen, Mance Warner, Chris Dickinson, etc.).
The gift of work is a real thing.
Sunday. January 23. Hammerstein Ballroom. New York City. Game Changer Wrestling.
There are some who say that GCW might be the third biggest wrestling promotion in the United States and even if you disagree, you have to tip your hat to Brett Lauderdale for building this thing into what it is today. The wrestlers set to appear at the Hammerstein Ballroom have worked their asses off and while the promotion has become synonymous with Nick Gage and death matches and all the things that some fans might dismiss, there’s also a great bit of fun, intriguing wrestling that goes on at these shows as well.
Case in point? Chicagoland in September, when I attended the company’s version of War Games the night before AEW’s All Out, and quickly realized that if you’re thirsty for that hungry, indie wrestling energy that can only be felt when it’s real, GCW is one of the only places on the planet you can get it. It’s raw, it’s gritty, it’s communal, and it’s infectious. The minute you feel like wrestling is getting stale, go to a GCW show and remind yourself how special this stuff can be.
So, what’s on my wish list? Well, it’s just to get into the building!
No, but really. I was fully planning on making the drive up north to the Hammerstein, but this thing sold out over Thanksgiving weekend. My response to that is double-edged. On one hand, that kind of/sort of seals my fate because I can’t find a single media contact for the company and you know nobody’s going to want to get rid of their ticket on the secondary market for something like this.
But on the other hand, and more importantly … well, how great is that? I mean, honestly: Good for GCW and good for indie wrestling. That show will be a huge step for them and especially with it being sold out, you have to think it will only lead to good — and perhaps bigger — things down the road. And to anyone who loves to travel in the wrestle war waters, let this be a friendly holiday reminder that a rising tide lifts all ships, so the better GCW does, the better the industry as a whole can be. It can’t just be WWE, AEW and nobody else.
So, congratulations, GCW. Now, to celebrate, could you … maybe open up some seats?
And speaking of how it can’t just be WWE, AEW and nobody else, how about we add this to my list: NJPW getting its Strong program on network TV in America. I don’t care if it’s ESPN 9 or beIN Sports 5 or PBS Plus, this weekly hour of wrestling deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. And while the New Japan World website is a fine enough conduit, it doesn’t come with the cache that cable television provides.
The thing about New Japan right now, too, is that I can’t recall a time in years — if ever — that the company has as many different connections to mainstream wrestling in America as it does now. The Impact Wrestling working relationship is ongoing and things seem to be moving along nicely with AEW. Plus, there’s a fine share of former NJPW talent that have become stars in WWE, including some former Bullet Club leaders.
And with the directive to gain a bigger imprint in America, why not strike while the iron is hot? There has to be a ton of WWE fans that never even knew AJ Styles did some of the best work of his career in NJPW; why not capitalize on that beyond El Phantasmo working in a Styles Clash in his matches these days? I understand the split between Kenny Omega and New Japan wasn’t exactly the most cordial, but Omega just held the most prestigious belt in AEW for about a year and is more in the American mainstream than he’s ever been. With all that in mind, you mean to tell me these things aren’t worth finding a spot on some network, somewhere, even if it has to be at three in the morning?
My point is that oftentimes, NJPW Strong is my favorite hour of the wrestling week (though to be fair, they are testing my patience with these hour-and-a-half shows occasionally). The talent is young, hungry, very good and not afraid to lay it in. Mix that in with star personalities like a Tom Lawlor or a Brody King or a Chris Dickinson and you have a recipe for some great matches and a presentation that flies by before you know it.
So stop messing around, American television networks. Grab this product before it sells out (and use promo code … ahh, never mind).
I don’t know, man. They done made a mess out of NXT, didn’t they? What used to be some of the best wrestling in the world with some of the best storytelling in American sports entertainment is now reduced to florescent colors and a guy whose gimmick is that he’s a sucker at the poker table.
The show just isn’t good. I recognize I’m one for caveats, but I can’t find one when it comes to NXT 2.0. It just isn’t a good show. Pushing Toxic Attraction to the moon feels like the right thing, but it also feels like the philosophy to over-sexualize talent because it worked 25 years ago is reductive on a lot more levels than one. Mr. Breakker would be great if he was Mr. Steiner. And … wait this is still the same show that has Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong on it, right?
So what’s the wish? It’s that Triple H makes a full recovery, gets back to work and somehow convinces the higher-ups to give him back the keys to the car he built into a classic. You don’t have to go back to NXT 1.0. You don’t even have to head back to simply NXT. Actually, I’m only throwing out NXT 3.0 because that seems like something WWE would do. You could call it “The Tuesday Night Polka Hour” for all I care; as long as we can get away from what this show/brand has become, I’m cool with it.
My biggest fear now is what happens with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. We’ve all read about how Johnny Takeover’s contract is up in a couple weeks and if he decides to stick in WWE, what happens to him? Does he fit in the NXT 2.0 plan or does he get a call up to shave his head and be a manager for Omos? Ciampa, meanwhile, is a great steward of the NXT legacy and a great pick for a champion ostensibly handing over the reigns from one generation to the next, but does this mean his current title run will be his last in not just NXT, but also WWE?
So many people have come and gone on that brand. Some have had success on the main roster (Kevin Owens, the Four Horsewomen, Seth Rollins) while some have not (Karrion Kross, Karrion Kross and Karrion Kross), but the narrative that a lot of people like to push is that no matter how great you look when you work at NXT, nothing is promised once you get the call to the big time and the track record of the main roster not messing up NXT wrestlers’ careers isn’t good. So, Gargano and Ciampa either stick around for years and toil away against fake college professors and something called Von Wagner, or they head to Smackdown to work matches taped for WWE Main Event?
Just get better, Hunter. NXT 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 100,000.0 misses you.
KICK IT IN OR LOCK IT UP
Look at any of these Monday pieces through the last year and you’ll see I’ve had very mixed feelings about the Forbidden Door. I understand the value in it and the support for it, but I also think the other side of the conversation is hardly ever recognized. It was fun for a second, especially when Kenta first appeared on AEW television (which at this point seems like light years ago), but currently, it embodies all that comes along with “enough is enough.”
Besides: We don’t get surprises with this thing anymore. And isn’t that supposed to be half the fun of the Forbidden Door? Kenny Omega beats down Christian Cage at the end of a pay-per-view, the lights go out and … Kazuchika Okada appears! Those are the fantasies we all had when this thing began. Instead, we get Best Friends joining Chaos because … throwing a faction into a faction means both factions have more power? I don’t know. Call me when Orange Cassidy appears at Wrestle Kingdom and then we can talk.
And so my final ask for this year’s holiday season: Quit messing around and dive into it or don’t. The working relationship between Impact and AEW, to my knowledge, is done, so that’s a step in the right direction. Now, if AEW wants to continue to work with NJPW, great. Just do it in a more affecting way. Let’s get Hiroshi Tanahashi or Okada or Tetsuya Naito on an AEW show, and likewise, send Hangman Page or Miro or CM Punk to New Japan.
Either way, let’s stop playing footsie. Why? Because the more watered down the relationship becomes, the more it wastes an amazing opportunity to really, truly put something special together. Blindly noting that FinJuice could take on The Gunn Club on an episode of Rampage two weeks from now is not maximizing the possibilities here. So, let’s have some fun. Or, at the very least, let’s at least take a step toward making things interesting. Throw Ren Narita out there with Bryan Danielson or hell, Jeff Cobb just showed up for MLW, and we all remember that shot he had with AEW a couple years ago, so imagine what a battle it would be between Cobb and Miro on an AEW pay-per-view.
It’s not too much to ask. Besides, I’ve been more nice than naughty this year. Maybe. OK, that’s not true. But I did make this list. And I checked it twice. So, hey Santa. Do me a solid and prove that you’re real. The wrestling world depends on it.