It was an extremely wrestling heavy weekend with the AEW Fight for the Fallen show and the EVOLVE show on Saturday, the WWE’s Extreme Rules on Sunday and matches from the G1 tournament being broadcast on AXS TV from Japan. Admittedly, I’m more of a “mainstream” wrestling fan, so I didn’t watch EVOLVE and I only watched the Moxley match from New Japan. That said, I have a few thoughts on the AEW and WWE events.
Takeaway 1: Brock or Seth? Lesnar or Rollins? Those are the questions that I ask of Vince.
Seth Rollins has been a “damaged” wrestler since he came back after recovering from a knee injury that forced the WWE to strip him of his world title without losing in the ring. This heel turn when directly against fan desires and was even hard for Rollins to explain. In my eyes, a big shout-out goes to Vince McMahon and WWE Creative for this dud of a story. Suffice it to say that this heel turn was engineered by Vince McMahon’s desire to build Roman Reigns as the headline act of the WWE. Rollins works very strong matches and has worked hard to separate himself from the shadow of Reigns. Sadly for Rollins, he has largely been relegated to the role of Reigns’ little buddy due to Vince’s obsession with making Roman into a modern day version of the Rock. As ratings have continued their slide, it is clear that Vince trying to decide who he wants as the RAW champion as we near the beginning of the Fox era (in October when SmackDown moves to the Fox broadcast network). The jury is still out as to whether we will see Lesnar as the champion or will SummerSlam be the venue where Rollins can “fix” his victory at WrestleMania to beat Lesnar? This time without resorting to tactics such as the low blows that won him the title in April.
While Lesnar is clearly the biggest name on the active roster of the WWE, he is also hampered by booking decisions that were put in place to get Reigns over with the fans. Brock is the classic “big attraction” wrestler that has been used for years. Andre the Giant is the most famous. These wrestlers are booked as almost unbeatable but have to come in and out of the federation because if they stick around, they either win the title and never let it go or they get beat too much to keep up with their marketing as being unbeatable. In order to prop up Reigns, who has long been harshly judged as the Chosen One by fans, the WWE drew attention to the fact that Brock isn’t around full time AND that he doesn’t even like to be in the WWE when he’s being paid. This backfired massively when Reigns had to give up his title due to his leukemia diagnosis. Brock was always looked at as a special attraction but now his less than regular schedule is an object of derision, not a reason to tune in.
On top of that, one can argue that the decision to go with Lesnar is essentially putting your money into a stock that is on the way down. Vince constantly complains in the press that he doesn’t have any stars on the current roster. Who’s fault is that? Could it be the promoter? McMahon has chosen to push for headlining shows with limited-run returns of aging former full-time stars such as:
Triple H (Vince’s son-in-law and presumed successor) returns for a few plodding 30 minute matches each year
The Undertaker (the 54 year old phenom) creaks around the ring making us wonder if he’ll be injured
Sean Michaels (Triple H’s good buddy) is the man who retired “never to come back” only to finally accept a large paycheck to return after years to wrestle in Saudi Arabia.
Goldberg (famous largely for not enjoying sports entertainment as a career) returned for a short title run and a truly disastrous match featuring a serious concussion while in the ring with the Undertaker.
The worst part of the “bringing back the old guys” strategy is Vince has abandoned the way this strategy used to be employed. A promoter would bring back an old fan favorite only to have this older wrestler lose to a younger roster member to set that younger wrestler up for a boost with the fans. Nowadays, the old guys don’t really want to lose, so they rarely job to the younger wrestlers. Many times, they just are booked to wrestle each other. No story, just a one-time matchup. There is no real advantage to this strategy – unless you’re a fan of the Seniors Tour in pro wrestling instead of golf – beyond the day of the match.
Lesnar began a long title run in at WrestleMania in 2017. The post-WrestleMania RAW that year featured an audience of 3.767 million viewers. Traditionally one of the highest watched RAWs of the year, that number has been shrinking drastically and it really hasn’t totally stopped up to the date of this article. Even this year’s post WrestleMania Raw only had 2.923 million viewers. That’s nearly a third of the audience lost. The typical weekly RAWs have rating drops that are much lower and the data leads me to think that while Lesnar is the biggest name, he’s not driving ratings. Or at least he’s not driving in the desired direction.
Vince has a lot to think about as the Fox deal approaches. Selecting either Lesnar or Rollins to be the champion is one big thing. Or, will Vince find a way for Reigns to grab one of the two titles? While I flip back and forth on what Vince will do with Seth and Brock, I feel pretty confident that Kofi Kingston will lose his title to Reigns on the debut show of SmackDown. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. We will see.
As an aside, I have an idea for a Fatal Four Way that Vince could use to determine a titlist. In the last five years Daniel Bryan (neck injury), Finn Balor (shoulder injury) and Reigns (leukemia diagnosis) have joined Rollins in the prestigious “I lost my world title due to an injury club.” Maybe they could fight each other for the World Heavyweight Title on SmackDown’s debut show on Fox. That might get some ratings.
Takeaway 2: Hangman needs a boost and Luchasaurus is a bad ass!
Hangman Page needs someone to sit down and plan for him to steamroll an opponent to look like he’s a real threat to beat Chris Jericho for the AEW title. He’s been doing a wonderful job of making lesser wrestlers look like real competition in his matches. That said, if you want to look like a dominant champion, its necessary to really flatten an opponent. Tonight, a one-sided beat down was in order. Sabien isn’t a top of the card wrestler, yet. Show us the difference between a mid-carder and a headliner, don’t be satisfied in simply telling us the difference through the broadcasters – and even that got a bit weird as they made excuses for Page during the match at times. Why not allow Page to demonstrate why he’s heading to a clash with Jericho? While they’re at it, Page also needs to be given some time on the microphone to really hit Jericho with a promo (or a few) to hype the match.
Page’s work in New Japan was impressive, but right now it looks like Kenny Omega is going to need to be the star that AEW is built around. Jericho can carry the load for a time, but his age makes him less likely to be The Man. Cody has a style that I like (I am an old school Flair-Rhodes fan after all) but he’s going to have to grow into superstar status in the eyes of many fans after his run in the WWE. With Page’s slow start, most fans would choose to build around Moxley and Omega. There is still a need to work really hard to get Page over. Page must nail his promos to grab the attention of the fans and ramp up the enthusiasm for this new promotion. But Jericho will probably hold the title until he runs into Moxley or Omega and then it’s time for the one not beating Jericho to chase the other. That should be fantastic to watch.
As a predominantly WWE fan, I knew very little of Luchasaurus. After seeing his match this weekend, this guy has potential. He moves well for a man of his size. Luchasaurus was surprisingly capable of hitting some kicks that I didn’t think he’d be able to reach. He has an impressive array of power moves. This wrestler certainly has possibilities as the next big monster character. He could be build up in the fashion of a Braun Strowman-like character. It not hard to envision Luchasaurus wreaking havoc when he gets unleashed. Sign me up to see more of the Luchasaurus.
Takeaway 3: Moxley fits in at the G1
It was really nice to see Moxley in the G1 this Friday night in a victory over Taichi. The match wasn’t anything particularly great but it was fun to see the more physical brawling Moxley style that has been muted in the WWE. I am curious as to what direction the G1 will go for Moxley. My assumption is that New Japan isn’t going to set up an AEW wrestler to go over easily in this tourney. For AEW’s part, they don’t want Moxley to look weak – and more importantly, they don’t want him getting hurt. AEW cannot afford this to happen, not when Moxley is suddenly one of the most marketable wrestlers in the world – due in a large part to his willingness to talk with “no holds barred” regarding the creative challenges (Vince) that exist behind the scenes of the WWE. This tournament will be a nail-biter for AEW brass as they keep their fingers crossed that Moxley returns to the US in one big healthy piece.
This is shaping up to be a really fascinating year for professional wrestling fans.