By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
July 22, 2022.
That was the day Vince McMahon retired from WWE.
December 5, 2022.
That is today.
In the middle is about four-and-a-half months. In those four-and-a-half months, Paul Levesque ostensibly took control of the product we see on television each week. Or, at least that’s the narrative. Levesque could have the same team that McMahon had under him. Levesque could have an entirely new group helping him run things. Who knows?
But four-and-a-half months is a good-enough sample size to reasonably take the temperature of the quality of job he’s done thus far. Truth be told, anyone with half a wrestling mind could have stepped into the role of “Face And Brains Behind WWE” and they would have been lauded. Because “Not Vince McMahon” is all anyone wanted for so long, a well-spoken parrot would be celebrated as long as the parrot brought back Johnny Gargano.
Ahh, but how exactly is that current Johnny Gargano run going? Absent is the Johnny Wrestling that could compete for an hour opposite Tommaso Ciampa; present is a guy half going for laughs while half … guiding Dexter Lumis through a main roster run? Love or hate the Miz and Lumis story, Levesque and his team have been stretching out over the last few months, you can’t deny that we were all kind of hoping for something more from Johnny New Father when he stepped back in a ring after taking some time off.
As it goes, though, we have yet to receive those dividends as fans. Will they come? Maybe. Maybe not.
Therein lies the core of my confusion about the Levesque era of WWE. In short, he has yet to hit a home run. War Games was a very fun watch. And the weekly television shows have been markedly better. But beyond not forcing 14 3-minute matches down our throats on a weekly basis and trimming those premium live events down an hour or so, he hasn’t done much other than play the role of Not Vince McMahon.
Wait. That’s not true.
He’s also bringing everyone he can back.
Enter William Regal and enter Eric Young. In what has seemingly become an all-hands-on-deck mission, Levesque appears intent on giving everyone he loved in his version of NXT a shot under brighter lights and on bigger stages. And that’s fine. I guess. If you run the show, you run the show, and who are we to argue? Plus, there were some people who got thrown out of WWE who never got a fair shake once their best days in NXT came to an end.
Where I run into a problem when I think about this stuff, though, is the moment I further consider the WWE returns we’ve seen over the last four-and-a-half months. I’m sure Karrion Kross is elated he doesn’t have to dress like a horny extra on the “Gladiator” movie set, but you’d have to do some hella convincing to get me to believe he’s clicking in a superstar way on the main roster. Braun Strowman came in and proceeded to alienate half the locker room by whining about star ratings and flippy-floppers. And Candice LeRae … I don’t know what’s going on with that.
Yet here we are, with the latest presumed returns in both Regal and Young. The latter was a top tier guy in Impact more than once and I’m not sure there’s evidence at this point to suggest he can be the same on the Raw or Smackdown roster in WWE. That’s no disrespect to Young – he’s a fantastic talent – but for as hot as The Bloodline angle is and as crowded with talent the mid-level title picture appears to be, he’s going to have to do some serious elbowing to make room for a spot in WWE that was anywhere near what he enjoyed in Impact.
Now, as for Regal.
The Lordship’s case is imperative to examine deeper because it marks the latest chapter in the game of musical chairs that appears to be going on between WWE and AEW. We all know the stories by now. Some people (allegedly) wanted out of WWE to head for AEW and those people received their wishes either by contract expiration or the future endeavor route. From there, some got to AEW, things felt good for a little bit and then (allegedly) they realized they kinda/sorta miss WWE – especially after McMahon left the picture – and they had buyer’s remorse. In some cases, there were rumblings that those ex-WWE guys wanted to go back to WWE. Allegedly.
Where things go from there, we are still in the midst of finding out. Regal’s case, however, appears to be different. Somewhat bafflingly different, in fact. He wasn’t even in AEW for a year and now he’s bailing. As has been the case in recent months, AEW owner Tony Khan seems to know where everybody’s bodies are buried because even the supposed unhappy employees have a commitment to silence that would make any Derek Jeter ex-girlfriend blush. In the former NXT GM’s case, the rumors have been rampant for the better part of a week. Things have gotten so out of control that even EC3 decided to break some news by claiming that Regal was never really all that happy in AEW to begin with because of what he called a “maturity issue.”
Who knows what’s true? I don’t. What I do know, though, is that the narrative about AEW is beginning to become redundant. So much so, that despite Khan’s impressive commitment to silence on these types of things, it might be a good idea to in some way address the whole maturity theme for which some both in and out of the company have expressed concern. Even if what EC3 said/heard is partially true, we have to remember that Regal continues to be one of the most respected figures in all of pro wrestling. He’s also a class act. If he did say he wasn’t happy and if he does believe AEW has its share of problems pertaining to maturity, it would mean a lot more coming from him than it does, say, Miro, who more often than not isn’t the happiest employee a pro wrestling company can find.
Still, this leads me back to Levesque. I understand there’s a personal element to the Regal move that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If other reports are to be believed, Regal and Levesque have a skin-tight personal bond and maybe Regal just wants to be reunited with one of his best friends. Yet even if that’s the case, the thought that Levesque has permanently righted the WWE ship shouldn’t be confirmed quite yet. WWE being better than it was doesn’t mean it’s revolutionary pro wrestling TV and therefore, Levesque’s run thus far isn’t quite deserving of being celebrated in the way I see some people celebrating it.
At the same time, AEW has an attitude problem. Or, well, at least that’s all I can conclude if nobody of any stature within the company ever wants to comment publicly on something. The Blackpool Combat Club was a very good idea with very good wrestlers and the absolute perfect figurehead in Regal to lead it. Bidding it adieu after nine months – especially considering the close friendships Regal has cultivated with its members – is as much an indictment on AEW as it is a testament to his friendship with Levesque.
Why do I say that? Because I can’t believe Regal is the type of guy to just up and leave like this. You can still be best pals with someone even if you don’t work with them for a few years. There were more things to do with the BCC in AEW if he wanted to – and even if he didn’t, the book he could have written with MJF over another nine months could have been just as compelling as his first nine months in the company were. It’s all to say, there’s more at play here than meets the eye, but you’ve probably already figured that out by now anyway.
Even so, if all the reports end up being true and Regal starts his next WWE run sometime after the new year, I hope he finds what he’s looking for, be it in personal or professional relationships, because heading back to WWE based solely on Levesque’s track record isn’t the wisest decision to make. Sure, it might not mean as much to Regal as it does Kross or Strowman or LeRae or Gargano because all signs point to Regal having a backstage role within the company, but as so many wrestling talents have learned over the last few years, no matter if you’re in WWE or AEW, heading for what you once thought was greener grass stings a lot more when you realize it still becomes brown when you don’t water it.
At the end of the day, I think we can all agree that we want Regal to be happy and find peace. Hell, for all any of us knows, maybe he just doesn’t want to be on the road at all, AEW called upon him to be away from home far more than he preferred, and maybe his entire reason to leave the company is as simple as that. Then again, in pro wrestling, nothing seems simple these days – just ask to see Levesque’s wishlist of talent, see how many he’s acquired and see what they’re doing on television nowadays.
And then see if, after four-and-a-half months in the driver’s seat, some still have more questions surrounding them than they do answers.