By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Why? Because there’s just too much happening to not want to take a stroll around the proverbial pro wrestling block. So lace up those shoes, friends. Let’s go.
WWE MONEY IN THE BANK (YEAH!)
If you’re reading this, chances are you watched one of WWE’s most gimmick-friendly shows over the weekend when it held Money In The Bank from London, England. Surprises were many (what’s up, John Cena? Oh, and what’d Ronda Rousey ever do to you, Shayna Baszler?). The drama was in overdrive as the Bloodline engaged in what was being billed as a Civil War (now, with all the wars going on in this world, don’t you think … ahh, never mind). And Damien Priest and Iyo Sky instantly upped their respective levels in the WWE Universe by procuring the Money In The Bank briefcases.
One name without that briefcase? LA Knight, who’s managed to amass a groundswell of supporters and followers that at this point can’t be ignored in the WWE oeuvre. Sadly, the company is still getting its feet underneath it as the movers and shakers figure out how they want to deal with this LA Knight thing. Heel commentator Wade Barrett goes out of his way to throw some Bad Guy Love his way each time Knight steps into the ring, but the act, at this point, screams nothing but Good Guy Energy. Many had him as the odds on favorite to win the men’s MITB briefcase on Saturday, but … that didn’t happen.
So, now what?
It’s hard to tell. And if we’re being frank, it’s also just a tiny bit frustrating. Not that I’m the world’s biggest LA Knight fan (don’t get me wrong; I do get a kick out of him), but this is the seance time in three months a WWE crowd had a massive groundswell built up for a single act only to have that entire phenomena deflate in the form of a mildly unexpected loss. That other example comes in the form of Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania, of course, as he had an enormous amount of momentum going into his match with Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship, but came up short. Some form of “Let the story play out,” is typically what some of us more impatient fans hear each time we question pro wrestling booking, but for the sake of a Monday column, let’s briefly look at the other side of that debate.
Is it possible to miss the perfect time to pull the trigger on a wrestler winning a major title and/or event? Yes. Has WWE done that before? Yes. Is it too late now to finish the stories of LA Knight or Cody Rhodes? I don’t think so. But what I do think, however, is that the more WWE finds itself in this position, the more it tends to play with warmer fire each time the confrontation begins to percolate. LA Knight isn’t going to be this over forever. Cody Rhodes has the lineage (and, to be fair, a much longer, more interesting story behind him), but if that guy doesn’t end up being the one to dethrone Roman Reigns, WWE is going to have a Cody problem on its hands in that the iron can only be so hot for so long and pro wrestling fans are famously fickle when it comes to whomever it is they throw their weight behind.
The leash may be shorter with Knight. Sure, he’s not showing any signs of slowing down currently, but it also doesn’t feel entirely clear that WWE knows what it wants to do with the guy. It’s the beginning of July. Do we think Knight could keep up this level of engagement with fans for the next six months or so, all the way into potentially winning the Royal Rumble? If not, is there a secondary title picture he fits in, because if you think there is, I’d like to hear about it. I guess Knight could work with Logan Paul through SummerSlam, but celebrity matches are forever crapshoots, no matter how much said celebrity has proven himself.
My point is simple: There will continue to be speculation about both Rhodes and Knight and the question of if WWE knew when to take them to the next level at the right time until one or both of them is actually … you know … taken to the next level. The longer the delay goes on, the more skeptical I become that those two stories will have a fulfilling ending. I won’t go as far to say that LA Knight should have won the men’s Money In The Bank match, but I will say that the pop he got once he started climbing that ladder was unparalleled within the context of that match. I understand the value in waiting to see how things play out; I’m just not entirely confident that WWE has what’s best in mind at all times for all parties involved.
SAY IT AIN’T SO
It was all the way back in April when I wrote a column about a conversation I shared with Jacob Fatu before MLW’s Battle Riot tapings in Philadelphia a handful of months ago. The piece was a glowing portrait of a guy who, I argued, deserved second, third and fourth chances. His positivity was infectious and his demeanor an utter delight. I have a lot of time for people who work to outrun their pasts, change for the better, understand, acknowledge and learn from whatever it is life has thrown at them. Fatu embodied all of those things, I argued. And I firmly stood in his corner.
Enter last week, when a story trickled out that Fatu had no-showed at least a couple of independent dates recently – one being a charity show in Wisconsin. The word that was thrown around with the most consistency was “ghosted.” Fatu claimed a family emergency and then fell off the face of the earth whenever these promoters tried to follow up with him. To the best of my knowledge, Fatu has stayed silent on these issues thus far, but to me, one thing remains consistent for me, and that’s the support I threw behind him in April.
Never would I condone wrestlers ghosting promoters – and multiply that times 1,000,000 when you consider how Fatu was supposed to make these spots under the guise of a charity function – but I’m also curious to see how Fatu confronts it. Changing perception is easy when you’ve decided you’re going to work to change it; keeping a clean slate in the interim is another story. Such is why perhaps my interaction with him a few months ago wasn’t the true barometer; instead, maybe we’re about to learn about how far he’s come (or hasn’t come) as he confronts these no-show issues.
“Treat people good,” he told me in Philadelphia – and I believed him. “The cats setting up the ring, doing all that, I appreciate them so much. I mean, I appreciate the boys in the back, too, but you gotta treat people good because you never know who you’re gonna see on the way coming down.”
Indeed. Here’s hoping Fatu didn’t forget those words only a handful of months after he said them. The sooner the answers come, the better.
OUTSIDE THE WRESTLING SPACE
It might seem like a tiny news item to most, but something was passed my way over the last few days and it was something from Jade Cargill. Apparently, the former AEW TBS Champion said something on social media that alluded to her being happy she’s not in the wrestling world these days. As in … well, that’s almost exactly what she said:
“Outside of the wrestling bubble is nice,” she wrote. “I might stay.”
This came after a fan asked her if she’d be back soon, to which Cargill tersely replied, “No.”
Naturally, this is the point where I say everything like this needs to be taken with a grain of salt because who knows who’s working whom and who knows what the pro wrestling plans are for whomever is being talked about, but the small but poignant exchange got me thinking: What if Jade Cargill actually doesn’t come back into the wrestling space? And if not forever, then let’s just say a long, long time. Then what? How do we look at her run?
The answers to those questions might vary by the viewer, but I do think one thing is not debatable: The AEW women’s division is better with an engaged Jade Cargill working on top. There are probably dozens of reasons why we could argue how her undefeated run cooled off by the time it came to an end at the hands of a returning Kris Statlander, but the fact of the matter is that Cargill is a star. In fact, that star power was the one thing that set her apart from her peers in the AEW women’s division.
Britt Baker gets a lot of credit for being the cornerstone of those women, and that might be fair, but not even the most famous dentist in the history of wrestling can eclipse Cargill’s raw radiancy. Sure, she was green in the ring, and yeah, there was still a lot of room for her to grow, but people forget that the Baddies gimmick was well on its way to being a mainstay in the AEW women’s division before it fell to the wayside. For that matter, people also forget that Cargill has been the only one to come through that division to at least create the illusion that she doesn’t need to try hard to accomplish what she’s accomplished. Even vets like Toni Storm or Saraya have had to work at connecting with the AEW fan base; that never seemed like it was much of a problem for Cargill.
It’s all to say … well, I hope this is all just in good fun and we see her back in the wrestling space at some point. She got off to such a promising start, it’d be a shame if she decided to let it go.
FORBIDDEN … SOMETHING
I made no secret of my anticipation and subsequent high hopes for this year’s installment of the AEW/NJPW Forbidden Door show. I was even on the Pro Wrestling Boom podcast twice in a span of only a few weeks because I wanted to talk about the show so much. Do I think it delivered? Sure. Yeah. I’ll go with that. Some matches worked; some didn’t, but that’s a pro wrestling show for you. Even if it makes me cringe a tiny bit, I heard someone describe the show as a love letter to wrestling and that’s probably the most accurate way to describe the thing. The card wasn’t for everybody, but it certainly had its audience that everyone knew would love it.
But then, as they say, the ratings came out.
Or, well, at least the ratings for the follow-up edition of AEW’s flagship show, Dynamite, and those ratings were bad. Historically bad, actually, Not only did the average number of viewers drop nearly 100,000 week over week, but the show brought in the lowest viewership and 18-49 demo rating of the year. Now, I’m not one of these obsessive ratings people that have somehow taken over large spaces of the professional wrestling lexicon, but I will say … now, shoot. That can’t be good.
To know that those disappointing numbers came directly after the Forbidden Door pay-per-view also gives me pause because … well, I like those Forbidden Door shows, man, and I don’t want them to go away!
Not that I think they will – yes, it’s a niche, but it’s a niche that’s proven itself worthwhile to a wrestling nerd like the guy who runs AEW – but I do think it’s sad to see so many people drop off in the wake of such a good pro wrestling show. Perhaps it’s a function of something bigger within the list of problems AEW faces, though, and perhaps those who choose to whine about how AEW can’t seem to grow beyond what it’s done through its first four years are onto something. And maybe – just maybe – the post-Forbidden Door Dynamite isn’t an indictment on the PPV, but rather on how much AEW has stalled in recent months.
It’s an interesting concept, even for someone like me, who does not care one iota about how many people tune into these shows each week: How does AEW get its groove back? I know Collision got off to a hot start, but those numbers have crumbled in the subsequent weeks, too, and one has to wonder if the bloom is now so far off the AEW rose that Tony Khan might have to figure out a way to regroup sooner than later. The company was gifted CM Punk a couple years ago, and that was precisely the shot in the arm it needed at that time; is there another CM Punk out there?
The answer to that question, obviously, is no. But if you run a company that has declining numbers and a divisive fan base, what’s the next option when “CM Punk” isn’t one? It’s a question far above my pay grade but one that ought to be examined more if AEW’s numbers continue to go down instead of up – especially if it’s a company that’s producing such an interesting pro-wrestling product, which AEW can do, but doesn’t always pull it off. Could TK be plotting something that will change the game once more? Time will tell.
Because for now, it’s not like Goldberg will be walking through that door anytime soon … will he?