King vs. Kidd, Cardona Contrast | Best of the Rest #1

In 2021, the gap between US wrestling’s top two and the rest widened, with the industry’s current runner-up producing their strongest year yet. As many of you will know, I covered much of that in Fleet Files, a series that tracked the second half of AEW’s monumental 2021. Now though, my focus shifts elsewhere, examining the other ‘national’ promotions. Now, let’s stop right there and clear some things up. Indeed, GCW is the actual third promotion in more ways than one, this series is not suggesting otherwise.

Instead, I am simply focusing on the weekly TV products as that’s what’s best for this particular format. Basically, consider this a slightly loose guide to the other promotions producing weekly TV, one that’ll ideally allow you to add an hour or two of wrestling to your week. Our four promotions, for now, are IMPACT, MLW, NJoA and NWA. Now, those four brands are clearly in very different predicaments and in fact, there will be some talent crossovers along the way too.

Either way, each week I’ll list the top four matches, segments and stars before settling on the best show itself. In the end, one promotion will stand tall and so will one talent but that’s a long way away so let’s get started with a series that seems destined for failure! Indeed, let’s find the Best of the Rest!

Match of the Week

The week’s four best matches, regardless of promotion or show.

  1. Eddie Kingston vs. Gabriel Kidd – NJPW Strong: Nemesis 8/1/22

Number one with a bullet, this is about as watchable as pro wrestling gets. In not even thirteen minutes, Eddie Kingston and Gabriel Kidd achieved a whole lot here, going to war and trading violent strikes until the former closed the show. In fear of being hyperbolic, this is the kind of match that in an ideal world, you’d build a territory around. The bruising veteran, Kingston battered Kidd but ultimately, elevated him greatly along the way. An unsurprising triumph from one of the world’s best, and an impressive showing from Kidd too.

2. Deonna Purrazzo vs. Mercedes Martinez – IMPACT Wrestling 6/1/22

The much discussed and debated IMPACT women’s division came through nicely here, featuring a strong television match between Deonna Purrazzo and Mercedes Martinez. The latter has recently signed with AEW but closed out her brief IMPACT stint in fitting fashion, producing a typically fiery performance opposite the cerebral former champion. Purrazzo was excellent here, working with an edge that sold the Hard to Kill main event better than any promo ever could. These two got some time and maximised it, producing the standout match on in-ring at least, a steady episode of IMPACT Wrestling.

3. Aramis, Black Destiny & Myzteziz Jr vs. Arez, Dinamico & Skalibur – MLW Azteca 6/1/22

The opening match on the premiere of MLW Azteca, this swiftly set the tone. In fact, this actually set a standard that I thought the rest of the show failed to match, but it was a hit nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t perfect and had its issues but ultimately, was a smart stylistic choice that quickly gave this programme its own flavour. Six young wrestlers showing what they can do in a chaotic trios match, with Aramis and Arez shining brightest.

4. La Rebellion & Homicide vs. Jax Dane & The End – NWA Powerrr 5/1/22

Relying on Homicide’s somehow unfading popularity, this week’s NWA Powerrr main event did the basics well enough to earn the final spot here. This wasn’t anything spectacular but frankly, had some life to it that unfortunately, wasn’t exactly present beforehand. This was spirited, I guess is my point, with Homicide mostly selling and giving the heels some room that thankfully, they quite competently filled. That portion set the stage perfectly for La Rebellion’s dynamic comeback, sprinkling some tandem offence in and confirming this bout’s place as the week’s fourth best.

Segment of the Week

The week’s four best segments, from backstage interviews to in-ring brawls.

  1. Matt Cardona Interview – NWA Powerrr 5/1/22

The only true triumph on a show that should be filled with promo standouts, Matt Cardona was the clear highlight of NWA Powerrr. This was perfect, with Cardona dismissing the nostalgia-fuelled NWA and ideally, setting the stage for his oncoming NWA World Title reign. Cardona is fresh off a remarkable 2021 and seems perfectly positioned to build on that moving forward, featured prominently in a range of roles.

2. 5150 Pre-Tape – MLW Azteca 6/1/22

The outlier on a programme packed with bad attempts at recapturing that famed Lucha Underground magic, this was effective pro wrestling. I always loved the LAX act and it probably goes understated just how well the last revival went but I must say, this was certainly encouraging regarding the latest incarnation. This was produced in a fashion befitting the gimmick’s origins and Rivera especially showed enough personality to set himself apart also. Good stuff from the tag champs.

3. Chelsea Green & Matt Cardona Sit-Down Interview – IMPACT Wrestling 6/1/22

Though not nearly as brilliant as his effort on Powerrr, this was still another win for Matt Cardona. With Chelsea Green by his side, Cardona played the traditional babyface, combining with Green for a strong sit-down interview. I think this act is infinitely more interesting on the other side of things but even here, they’re effective, especially when armed with some worthwhile content like they were on IMPACT. Nice segment, neatly assisting a match that probably needed the help.

4. W. Morrissey – IMPACT Wrestling 6/1/22

While I understand the ongoing dismissal of W. Morrissey as a national promotion’s top guy, I think his general performance has been undeniably impressive. Namely, his promos, a puzzle piece that Morrissey showed flashes off in WWE. That’s been truly cemented in IMPACT though, being a consistent strength that is steadily separating Morrissey from the pack. Divisive as his overall ceiling may be, Morrissey can really talk and this was a nice example of that, adding genuine depth to this character.

Star of the Week

The top four stars of the week, excluding talent signed to the big two.

  1. Matt Cardona

This speaks for itself, with Matt Cardona earning two of my three favourite segments of the week. Better yet, Cardona is portraying completely contrasting personas on these shows, but feels like a standout star on both. I don’t think anyone needs me to tell them just how impressive this run of Cardona’s career has been, but his effectiveness can be lost in a vacuum. Truly, watch the content surrounding him, especially on Powerrr, and you’ll see why Cardona is trending in the right direction.

2. Gabriel Kidd

A worthy dance-partner opposite one of the world’s absolute best, Gabriel Kidd had a breakout performance against Eddie Kingston. Don’t get me wrong, he was impressive against Jonathan Gresham too but stylistically, this was something else. The oldest play in the book really, giving a talented but raw young wrestler a chance to show his heart, bravely challenging the older, wiser warrior. Hopefully Kidd can build on this, he’s certainly up to the challenge once the bell rings.

3. Deonna Purrazzo

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Deonna Purrazzo’s work since losing the IMPACT Knockouts Title. Purrazzo has added a real edge to her game, temporarily distancing herself from the pure wrestling stylings that she’s known for. This week’s match with Mercedes Martinez was rough and physical, but stayed close enough to Purrazzo’s comfort zone to showcase her strongest skills. That was most clear in the finish, spotlighting Purrazzo’s slick grappling as she scored the sudden submission win.


While I didn’t actually love the match with Jake Something, I thought I’d give a nod to JONAH here in the final spot. I’ve never been a big fan but I must say, his general presentation has impressed me in IMPACT. In this role, JONAH finally feels like an actual monster and thankfully, his performance is mostly up to the challenge thus far. There’s an aggression to JONAH, a confidence that’s been previously absent in my view. Combining the match with the brawl that followed, I’d say this was a nice episode for JONAH.

Show of the Week

The week’s television shows ranked in order, from best to worst.

  1. NJPW Strong

In fear of being negative, this particular placement is probably telling. Outside of the main event, NJPW Strong was around 30 minutes of fine pro wrestling. Not bad, don’t get me wrong, just steady stuff that didn’t do much to excite or inspire. Then Eddie Kingston arrived and transformed the whole programme, cementing it in the top spot with just over twelve minutes of pro wrestling excellence. ‘The Mad King’ and Gabriel Kidd deserve the credit here, producing something a tier above the rest, singlehandedly securing this position for NJPW Strong.

2. IMPACT Wrestling

If nothing else, IMPACT Wrestling was a pretty effective go-home show and with some solid wrestling too, that was more than enough to earn it the second spot. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t really expect too many swings in quality from IMPACT, who have their playbook and generally produce consistent television, for better or worse. Deonna Purrazzo vs. Mercedes Martinez wasn’t alone either, with a handful of neat enough television bouts around it. Throw in a Masha Slamovich squash match and ultimately, you have a success.

3. NWA Powerrr

Finally making their return to YouTube, NWA produced a…well, vaguely inoffensive edition of Powerrr. By that I mean, there really wasn’t much embarrassingly bad content and deep down, I still enjoy the format in a broad strokes sense. Unfortunately, there aren’t many impressive players left onboard and so, the familiar system isn’t quite as effective as you may recall. Worst of all, this was a rather bloated episode, taking away NWA’s always appealing shorter run-time. I don’t know, maybe I’m being harsh but there just wasn’t much here, barely a hook in sight sadly.

4. MLW Azteca

To be clear, I understand that this isn’t totally fair. This isn’t MLW’s full-time, flagship programme and as far as I know, Fusion or something resembling it will soon return. If and when that happens, I’ll be covering that as the MLW product but for now, this is what I was working with. Now, it also doesn’t help that I was embarrassingly unfamiliar with much of the talent featured here, so hopefully those disclaimers make this placement an easier pill to swallow. With all that being said, I thought this was quite bad, unfortunately.

The Top Talent

The top four talents thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and star categories above.

  1. Matt Cardona – 10 Points
  2. Gabriel Kidd – 7 Points
  3. Deonna Purrazzo – 5 Points
  4. Rivera – 3 Points

The Top Territory

The four promotions’ performance thus far, ranked by the best match, segment and show categories above.

  1. IMPACT Wrestling – 9 Points
  2. NJPW Strong – 8 Points
  3. NWA Powerrr – 7 Points
  4. MLW Azteca – 6 Points

The Sinclair Saga: September 2011

With the recent news about Ring of Honor, I had an urge to create some content. Against my better judgment, I’m an Honor Club subscriber and so, let’s hop in the time machine. Now, I could relive the classics but let’s be honest, that’s too easy. In addition, I kind of already do that, watching ROH’s greatest hits every week on The Distraction Channel. Instead, this ‘series’ will be a look back at Ring of Honor TV, an element of their model that always fascinated me.

Though the weekly product consistently featured action worth watching, I think you can reasonably argue that they never quite figured this thing out. With that in mind, I’ve decided to find out for myself, going back to the very start…well, kind of anyway. Rather than revisiting the HDNet programming, I’ll pick up where this streaming service allows: their Sinclair debut. Indeed, September 2011, mere months after the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s acquisition.

This moment follows a tumultuous time for Ring of Honor and unsurprisingly, they’re a distance away from steadying the ship again too. Jim Cornette has allegedly been at the helm for a year, booking alongside Delirious who replaced Adam Pearce. As you’re probably aware, this regime has already been impressively divisive but let’s see how they handle broadcast TV, a step that was expected to transform ROH business or something like that.

To be clear, this is intended as an informal look back and nothing more. I’ve decided to watch this stuff anyway, this content will simply accompany the ride. I’ll generally go month by month, writing in broad strokes but for this particular entry, we’ll bleed over some and also cover the October 1st 2011 edition of ROH TV. That’ll still leave four episodes for next time but allow this premiere to expand beyond the…well, premiere itself.

September 2011

As we go here, I intend to keep track of the programme’s production, presentation and overall feel. Famously, this time was defined by a throwback vibe, as Ring of Honor looked to provide a grainy, rough alternative to the flashy mainstream scene. Those visuals carry over to the product itself, with traditional formatting that’d prove incredibly polarising among ROH’s established fanbase. In fear of oversimplifying things or pointing the finger in any particular direction, it feels like old school territory TV but with Ring of Honor talent.

Now, if your response to that is “all hail,” I understand. As many of you will know, this take on television is a personal grin for me too, but that’s not really the point. In this case, the question is about whether or not this approach maximises this particular product at that particular time. History suggests no, absolutely not but I can only judge things one month at a time and thus far, I don’t have much negative to say. Unquestionably, this thing feels dated, even for a decade ago but there are absolutely elements I appreciate.

For example, this product feels immediately episodic through two weeks and I seem to recall that being an ongoing occurrence in this initial era. It sounds silly, but that was far too uncommon as ROH TV evolved, simply feeling like an hour of content at times rather than a genuine showcase of the current angles and arcs. That part of the puzzle feels like an undeniable triumph, I’m just unsure if it locks them into some other stylistic choices that we’ll get into here shortly.

The Voices of Honor

Look, I’m all for grittiness, but the initial visual of this product isn’t exactly flattering. Unfortunately, gritty would be the generous description of this opening shot and that’ll be a never-ending challenge as these tapings unfold. Cornette claims that his plan was a television studio, avoiding such violent swings in presentation but even a decade later, that never came to fruition. Don’t get me wrong, this particular look isn’t even bad by the promotion’s own relatively low standards, it’s just not exactly ideal.

Regardless, episode one starts with Kevin Kelly in centre ring, swiftly introducing his new colour commentator: Nigel McGuinness. This team would soon become awful familiar for wrestling fans, with McGuinness really improving tremendously in the coming years. McGuinness had been released from TNA only months prior, bringing a merciful end to his frustrating time as Desmond Wolfe. Unfortunately, McGuinness’ in-ring career was basically over, concluding things with a retirement tour shortly thereafter.

Clearly, the ROH audience is delighted to have McGuinness back, reacting raucously to his standard in-ring promo. Unfortunately, the sound of said promo isn’t great, a problem that’d somehow worsen in episode two, when Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team opens things up. They’re interviewed by Cornette himself, progressing their programme with The Briscoes and giving the ‘executive producer’ an ultimatum.

Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team Division?

With episode one featuring two tag matches, the promotion’s tandems were an immediate focus here. That begins with Future Shock, the combination of a young Kyle O’Reilly and an even younger Adam Cole. I’ve always loved this team but I must say, the comedy of their presentation here was somewhat lost on me beforehand. When Kyle O’Reilly is described as “an outdoor adrenaline junkie,” it’s impossible for my brain to go anywhere but those infamous Thrillseeker vignettes from almost two decades prior.

Ultimately though, Future Shock make the most of their time, defeating The Bravado Brothers in a nice tag team opener. This is a case where I completely understand the logic behind this choice, but wonder if it immediately tells a tale of some kind. Whereas this was slightly restrained and more of a neat, steady introduction, I wonder if the real play was the modern tag sprint that left nothing to spare. Clearly, that’s not what Cornette wanted then, now or forever, but it crossed my mind considering where we’re at these days.

In truth, those options probably produce the same results as commercially, true growth would be limited regardless. Ring of Honor was chasing the very few wrestling fans that’d ever be interested in their product and if the last decade has taught us anything, that number may be frustratingly low. Don’t get me wrong, things get better and as the promotion heats up, their television allegedly gains success but it’s just worth noting: this isn’t me saying that if someone else had the book, ROH is on NBC in primetime right now.

Either way, episode one is headlined by Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, defending their titles against The Kings of Wrestling. This would be Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli’s final time teaming together in ROH, with the latter signing for WWE and staying there ever since. As you’d expect, this was objectively good but unfortunately, it was also my first reminder of Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin’s slightly weird ROH work. I actually like much of it, but their presence is symbolic of the ongoing styles clash.

Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Teams work in a way that was somewhat at odds with the promotion’s prior house style. Personally, I seldom have a problem with it but when paired with the change that this regime had brought in the year before, it made them the faces of that transition. This match encapsulates the conversation really: enjoyable, well-executed stuff that never explodes into the kind of crazy action that you’d want to truly define what this brand is. It’s good, but is that enough?

Pacing & Prodigy

I must say, even with two relatively lengthy TV main events, I’m stunned that neither episode featured three matches. Honestly, I remembered the exact opposite, recalling three matches as the consistent format. Instead, these shows are packed with video packages, explaining the promotion’s stars as well as things like the ‘Code of Honor.’ It’s hard to dismiss such ventures, doing the detail work that admittedly, I do think that modern wrestling lacks at times. These packages aren’t perfect, but I’d say they’re generally effective.

With the ‘Inside ROH’ pieces, fans get an insight into things as throwaway as Eddie Edwards’ nickname as well as the main event dynamic between Davey Richards and Roderick Strong. It’s all engaging enough, even if not executed expertly by the performers in question. Again though, was this the correct choice overall? When trying to sell a product on hard-hitting, exciting in-ring action, are so many pre-tapes really the play? It’s hard to say but the lack of wrestling stood out for me, weakening the programme’s most obvious strength.

Speaking of such, poor Mike Bennett is at the peak of his infamous Prodigy push here, an apparent personal project for Cornette. It’s hard, as I really do like Bennett but not unlike the above example, he just didn’t make sense as a focal point of this particular product. In truth, that’s the answer, as the plan was to use talent like Bennett to alter the identity of said product, but live crowds were understandably reluctant to accept that change. Bennett isn’t bad here, but immediate “you can’t wrestle” chants probably aren’t ideal.

That doesn’t change the direction however, as Bennett beats Jimmy Jacobs who alongside Steve Corino, is in the midst of his recovering babyface act. It’s worth noting that each episode features a ‘Tweet of the Week,’ with one gentleman claiming to be Batman. It was a different time, maybe, not really though I guess.

TV Time Allowed

Like most, I remembered that early on here, Jay Lethal dethrones El Generico, claiming the ROH Television Title. Indeed, that’s the main event of episode two, an immediately divisive decision that set a precedent for that kind of thing re: Generico. Lethal had returned to the promotion only months prior, rebuilding after years as a comedy character in TNA. An obvious priority of this new era, Lethal’s win made sense and set the stage for a decade of dominance but in this case, perhaps wrongly came at Generico’s expense.

Though I recalled the result, I had forgotten this particular presentation, as the pairing initially reached a time limit draw. Naturally, the live crowd groaned and I made a note to myself that this was another case of an outdated playbook and philosophy. I must say though, that when Cornette restarted things, the place suddenly exploded into action, making their most noise yet as Generico and Lethal went back and forth until the eventual conclusion.

I remembered a red hot finishing stretch and that’s what I got, but I’d forgotten how in this case, the booking actually enhanced that. At least there was an actual winner I suppose, even if the choice itself caused a conversation or two at the time.


Well, that was September, a fine start to Ring of Honor’s time on television. Early days of course and we’ll see this develops but my initial read is that this product is better in hindsight than in real time. Basically, it has many elements that objectively, you can appreciate but ultimately, were probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. Time will and actually did tell, but I’m looking forward to what’s next, as Davey Richards defends his ROH Title against Roderick Strong in episode three.

Fyter Fest Thrills, SmackDown Shines | Takes, Takes & More Takes #22

Well folks, it’s been awhile. Four months ago, this series abruptly ended after what I thought was a decent little existence. Simply put, I couldn’t keep watching the wrestling at that rate, and that may be the case moving forward. If so, this’ll be a short-lived comeback but with fans returning, it feels like a good time to start fresh. NXT, AEW and SmackDown are the focus today so with that in mind, let’s get this show on the road, quite literally.


Since the rehiring of Samoa Joe, I’ve made my own return to NXT. No longer losing a wrestling ratings war, NXT’s move to Tuesday has been a positive step critically, even if a lateral move commercially. I do agree with the consensus though, that this is a good show that’s already benefitting from standing alone each week. At times, I still struggle with an overarching emotional investment but there’s barely a babyface in sight, so that feels inevitable regardless of their new night.

Either way, I can always embrace a wrestling match to start a wrestling show and NXT delivered that here, giving Dakota Kai and Ember Moon some time to set the tone. I feel like I’ve seen this match a lot but Kai and Moon are honestly two of my personal favorite television workers right now. That may sound hyperbolic but I really do think the world of both, just incredibly watchable and able to produce sound matches of this length without exhausting me.

Now without Shotzi Blackheart, Moon’s safety net is gone and admittedly, I do fear for her. To me, she’s a prime candidate for the classic NXT heel turn and I’m just not sure that’s what this brand needs. Then again, perhaps it’ll be more feasible when/if Kai and NXT Champion Raquel Gonzalez split. Ideally, Kai chases Gonzalez as a babyface but whatever form or fashion they choose, that programme feels inevitable after Dakota’s win here. Moon will always be valuable, I just hope that creative has her back.

Speaking of Gonzalez, she’s now set for at least a mini-programme with Xia Li because again, babyfaces, who needs them? The match sounds like an interesting case study at least, a real look at what those two obviously talented women can do without a clear leader involved. I’m intrigued, even if from a more analytical perspective than anything tangible. The women’s division is in transition right now, losing three names last week and apparently gaining Mandy Rose in return. Frankly, I’m very much for this as a trend.

Some talent just gets stagnant on the main roster and stylistically, RAW and SmackDown are too similar to make a shift matter. NXT feels like a genuine clean slate though, especially for Rose, who never really had a proper run on the brand. Rose is someone that clearly, they want to use but it’s just never really worked in my opinion. The raw ingredients are there but not quite to the extent necessary, she’s not incompetent by any means, just lacking a standout skill-set based her main roster usage at least.

Elsewhere, a logical direction was taken with the NXT North American Title, as Legado del Fantasma headed in Hit Row’s direction. This makes sense on numbers alone but again, I have questions. Are we doing an actual babyface turn for Hit Row here, because that’s what should probably happen. Look, ‘Swerve’ is a wonderful villain but this is a money act, just embrace it and try to get something over. The shades of grey stuff remains my biggest issue with this product, though I’m admittedly excited for that eventual match.

The NXT Breakout Tournament got underway also, as Duke Hudson defeated Ikemen Jiro in a pretty short affair. Personally, I wouldn’t have started this tournament with a virtual showcase match, but that’s a bigger picture thing. Am happy for Duke Hudson regardless, who was over a year removed from the ring. Then Brendan Vink, Hudson was a brief RAW regular, teaming with Shane Thorne under the tutelage of MVP. With a big frame, Hudson jumps off the page, armed with a unique charisma too.

Hudson can talk and has a palpable confidence, but it’s not traditional wrestler stuff. He’s almost dry, bringing a different delivery and no, I don’t just mean his accent, which also rules. Simply put, he was an intriguing signing, an intriguing add to RAW and now, an intriguing piece of this tournament. I doubt he’ll win it, but this victory alone suggests that there’s some sort of plan, which bodes well if nothing else. I do worry about these ‘prospects’ though, as the main event scene seems so set in place.

Speaking of such, Adam Cole still isn’t going anywhere and indeed, remains completely miscast as a heel. I know, I know, it’s annoying and you want me to move on but seriously, know your viewer. The NXT audience loves Adam Cole and after such a sustained stint as top heel, that may as well be embraced. Cole still stands out on this roster and for all his faults, that’d probably be the case in any promotion, on any brand. Build around him as the lead protagonist I say, at least that’s fresh.

Finally, Karrion Kross retained in the main event, vanquishing genuine contender Johnny Gargano. A title change seemed possible here but in the end, Gargano was a mere afterthought, as Kross left Joe laying to close the show. I actually liked the match though, able to produce an engaging title tilt without having to fill half an hour along the way. That helped Gargano as much as Kross, simplifying things and getting right to business. It was a very simple match really, with Gargano playing the de facto babyface.

Though it’s a distant memory now, few are better at that, fighting from underneath and sprinkling hope spots throughout. The Kross saga fascinates me, as he’s not even uh, bad? I mean, he’s not particularly good I guess but like, he’s mechanically fine, just kind of flat. That’s whatever, but he’s now been framed on-screen as a bell to bell disaster and with this audience, that’s hard to shake. I feel for him really, as this level of skill can be worked with, it’s not Kross’ fault that he’s immediately won the title, twice!

Nonetheless, Samoa Joe is seemingly next up for him and that’s exciting news, I think. I mean, I’m excited anyway, very excited in fact. To me, a return to NXT signaled the likely end of Joe’s in-ring career but this angle suggests otherwise. I think that Joe has been used rather well thus far but as a wrestler, his value is obviously multiplied. Now, another title reign? I’m less sure. Joe is wonderful, an all-timer but he’s been NXT Champion and going backwards will seldom lead anything forward.

I’ll watch either way, of course, as Joe is king but you get my point. It’s time for a new era in NXT or at the very least, fresh ideas for familiar faces. Joe is Joe, he’s an attraction certainly but a centerpiece in 2021? Probably not the best placement. I enjoyed NXT though, it’s consistently good and slowly but surely, they’re earning my attention.


For over a year, AEW was operating without its special ingredient. That was easy to forget at times, especially as Dynamite went from strength-to-strength but after two weeks on the road, it’s impossible to imagine a product without these crowds. Across the country, wrestling fans are just desperate for this release, infinitely more invested than they even were before the promotion’s ‘pandemic era.’ The roster is stronger, the matches are neater, the promos are better, and the result is great television. This week in particular, those factors produced an all-time episode of Dynamite.

As all shows should, it started with Wild Thing and somehow retained that pace, just two hours of nothing but hits. Moxley’s opener with Karl Anderson shouldn’t be ignored though, an engaging TV bout reminiscent of Anderson’s many G1 undercard bouts. Moxley is just special, bringing a raw energy to this show that’s not possible with anyone else. The entrance is just icing on the cake really, the final touch to one of wrestling’s great thrills. Next week, Moxley’s got Lance Archer in a Texas Death Match too, so he’s certainly making up for lost time.

Speaking of such, Ricky Starks is back, and he still feels as certain for stardom as ever. He and Brian Cage produced an exciting bout that in opting against a surprise, actually surprised me. The story throughout has been that Cage is distancing himself from Team Taz and indeed, they finished the job for him, helping Starks and switching ‘The Machine’ babyface. This feud aside, I don’t really know about Cage’s usefulness in that role, especially as a singles. Perhaps Jake can bring him and Archer together, as the latter’s own direction feels in doubt after Wednesday.

Starks staying heel is interesting, as I did feel that for the sake of balance, he could be used on the other side. As a cocky, but charming babyface, Starks felt like a natural fit opposite MJF or Ethan Page, but this route definitely helps Team Taz. This way, the faction maintains its variety and Powerhouse Hobbs can now fully fill the position of group monster. Elsewhere, Cody Rhodes is back apparently, as reliant on fans as we all recalled. This feud with Malakai Black is off to an encouraging start, just a matter of keeping things simple.

AEW has my trust in that sense too, with ‘Hangman’ Page’s pursuit of Kenny Omega continuing to set the standard for modern wrestling storytelling. This is one of the industry’s great arcs, and the emotional weight of Dark Order’s involvement is truly staggering. That act isn’t just in this story, they are its heart and soul, bringing the fans to life with their support of ‘Hangman.’ The audience is just ready for this, they are ready for Page as champion and when that match arrives, the big fight feel should be striking.

This show always seemed set to deliver, but Christian’s renewed rivalry with Matt Hardy was a common critique. That’s fair enough but in reality, they just had a good wrestling match, one that the audience thoroughly enjoyed. It’s amazing what happens when two pros are protected enough and then left to their own devices, truly shocking stuff. Once again though, this show may have been a home run, but it was still light on development for the women’s division. Yuka Sakazaki vs. Penelope Ford was enjoyable enough, but Britt Baker remains the focus.

At least this week, that resulted in something good, as Baker cut a simple in-ring promo that breathed life into this feud. I’ve long thought that at times, fans are slightly hyperbolic with Baker’s ability on the microphone but no doubt, this one fit the bill. Baker spoke with great conviction and the content was good also, just a strong short segment to steady the ship after a few rough weeks. Even still, I’d like to see a secondary women’s feud in some form or fashion as without that, this thing can only climb so high.

Finally, Darby Allin and Ethan Page provided the perfect conclusion to their violent conflict. Some dynamics just work, and this is one of them, two rising stars simply made for each other. Allin’s passion for bumping like a wild man brings something seemingly psychotic out of Page, adding an edge to his ‘All Ego’ persona. Page is a player, and this feud should be just the start, but I must say, it’ll be hard to make him look as dangerous as Allin has as of late. It’s something special, a feud that could and should be revisited through the years.

After this, Allin’s next step should be interesting, as history suggests that he and Sting have to find another pair to fight at All Out. Personally, I almost expected a student vs. teacher direction but Allin’s victory here makes that even more unlikely, so I guess we’ll see. Either way, this was an all-time outing for AEW, one of the greatest editions of Dynamite yet. Next week looks strong too, even if not quite to this level but special names aside, this just feels like a new norm really, simply extreme examples.

This roster is such that the quality should be consistently high, especially with their almost rotational approach to wrestling television. Simply put, enjoy the ride folks, it rules.


After over a year without live crowds, the blue brand was back in front of fans this week. The first step of WWE’s long-awaited return to touring, SmackDown was a triumphant occasion, also concluding the build to Money in the Bank. As expected based on the advertisements alone, it was a good show but with this energy? It felt like much more than that. After a hilariously understated welcoming by Vince McMahon, an onslaught of entrances occurred, preparing to open the show with a blockbuster 6-man tag.

This ten minutes or so stole the show in truth, and I don’t even mean that as a criticism of the rest. The whole thing was truly epic, a collection of ‘moments’ that after everything, felt truly earned. Reigns was out first, setting the tone for an electricity that peaked with Edge, entering to an unfathomable reaction. For all the talk of fickle crowds swaying opinion, Edge was a case of the opposite, suffering from the ThunderDome’s silence. Regardless of creative, this guy was always getting cheered, whining or not.

Edge probably shouldn’t beat Roman, like ever but his overness is such that I’m no longer dismissing it. Unnecessary? Yes. Short-sighted? Probably but a complete misstep? No, the audience suggests otherwise. Either way, this was a very good 6-man tag, with Rey and Dom Mysterio taking Edge’s side opposite The Bloodline. Mysterio continues to connect with Jimmy and Jey as perfectly as you’d expect, and that tag title tilt is a potential show-stealer on Sunday, even on the pre-show. This was about Reigns and Edge though, with the latter eventually standing tall.

That particular degree of momentum just wasn’t being sustained in this show’s current state, but it had a segment left in it yet. As was widely hinted at beforehand, Finn Balor is back on the ‘main roster,’ returning to SmackDown and silencing Sami Zayn. Obviously, Balor is a wonderful talent and on the babyface side, the rich get richer. Reigns has always had interesting opponents available and Balor may now top that list, especially with their history. That’s been a magical pairing before, so I can only imagine its potential now.

Also, for all the criticisms of NXT’s most recent form, Balor is a credit to it. That brand allowed Balor to refresh his persona, reminding the world of his ability and rejuvenating his own brand in the process. That should be far more common than it is, even if Balor is an extreme example, considering his skill and popularity. WWE has the structure to utilize a global territory system and yet, their desperation to keep everyone on the red and blue brands result in mass overexposure. Keep things fluid, it’s best for all involved.

Inevitably, things did dip some from there, transitioning to another tag match between the champions and the team of Shotzi and Nox. As far as I know, Natalya and Tamina lost this exact match last week so heading into Money in the Bank, a match they’re inexplicably in, a repeat felt puzzling. I do understand the urge to feature the NXT call-ups in front of live crowds though, as this particular audience seemed mostly uninitiated. Unfortunately, even in victory, Shotzi and Nox were an afterthought. The whole match was really, with Liv Morgan and Zelina Vega on commentary.

On the bright side, Morgan’s reaction was very encouraging and though it’s nothing new, they certainly have something with her. Morgan connects and is genuinely likeable, now earning the more cynical viewer’s respect over the years too. People like Liv, and quite naturally root for her which silly as it sounds, is increasingly rare in this division. I don’t think that Morgan needs to win on Sunday as that doesn’t seem like the story to tell here but based on the current line-up, I’m struggling to see a stronger alternative.

Frankly, I don’t think the actual winner is even booked yet. I personally expect either Doudrop to take out Alexa Bliss, or Sonya Deville to replace Liv Morgan. In the former scenario, a Becky Lynch return feels in play but then again, perhaps it’s just these eight. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a talentless group, far from it. Unfortunately though, it is an uninteresting line-up as sadly, most of the performers involved are simply positioned poorly on weekly TV. If it stays as is, Morgan jumps off the page as an ideal victor.

Whoever wins, they aren’t likely to dethrone Bianca Belair anytime soon. Receiving an absolute superstar reaction, Belair felt like a face of the company level figure, just exuding charisma. Belair gets better every time I see her but credit to Carmella, the challenger in this replacement matchup. For the longest time, I had gripes with Carmella’s in-ring efforts but this year, she appears to have really smoothed out those rough edges. Her bump and feed here was better than ever, showing actual aggression when the time come too.

Together, Belair and Carmella combined for a strong title match, convincing me that a proper programme is worthwhile. Sasha Banks is the obvious choice for SummerSlam though, which will probably take shape next week. Before I move to the main event, it’s worth mentioning Baron Corbin, who was absolutely tremendous here. This shtick is awful silly but I was thoroughly entertained, securing this as Corbin’s peak in my mind, even though I’ve only seen one segment. I like Corbin too, but this was actually good in a way that fleeting multi-man matches aren’t.

That led us to our aforementioned headliner anyway, as Kevin Owens dropped Corbin before the fatal 4-way main event. It was a showcase of SmackDown’s Money in the Bank participants, ultimately meaningless but an exciting sprint nonetheless. Rollins eventually won, which I hope erases him from the shortlist of actual contenders. Look, I’m not going to dance around this situation as it’s simple, Big E should win this match. In fact, Big E should also beat Bobby Lashley at SummerSlam. I’m tired of waiting, it’s been a year now, get on with this before it’s too late.

Regardless, this was a strong show, packed with excitement and feel-good fun. That sounds goofy, but it’s true, the audience was happy and WWE didn’t actively upset them. Three good matches and nothing that offended me, that’s a great night at the office, especially under these circumstances. I will say though, the ThunderDome crowd noise making momentary returns is very bad for my brain, as it results in me fearfully watching the fans, still hiding my many scars from those horrifying screens.

Oh well, very good show, seriously.

Rey Mysterio: Appreciating What We Have

I love Rey Mysterio. It’s a bit embarrassing really, but I’ve conceded this before. Look, no sane human should idolise fake fighters and I’m not here to suggest that Rey is any different but as far as fake fighting goes, he’s King in my view. I think that everyone agrees on Mysterio, he’s not only great but iconic, armed with increasing longevity too. Must say though, I sense that some don’t quite grasp the grandeur of his significance, the lengths that his legacy covers.

He’s incredibly influential but also timeless, setting a standard before perfecting so many other pieces of the performance. As Mysterio’s first WWE stint came to a merciful close in 2015, his career could quite reasonably be split in half. For a decade, Mysterio was the industry’s most spectacular acrobatic, blazing a trail as WCW’s standout Cruiserweight. That division hosted a squad of sparkling skill but on arrival, Mysterio was something a little different. He pushed the boundaries to their limits, the furthest feats, the highest highs.

That’s an impact that commands respect, a memory worth cherishing. In many ways, those times shaped the decades that have followed, as Nitro’s Cruiserweight exploits influenced a generation that’d soon dominate the wrestling landscape. The eras that followed WCW’s demise eventually featured a range of would-be Cruiserweights that were now headline acts. WCW’s fleet of flyers never managed that ascension in their own system but Mysterio was and is one of those names, doing much more than just setting the tone.

That half of Mysterio’s career was very different to the first though. After arriving in WWE, Mysterio adapted, steadily evolving to suit his new surroundings. In bursts, Mysterio was still as stunning as ever but his game had changed, finding a form that’d prove far more sustainable. Mysterio’s magic was now deeper than the physical thrills, deeply rooted in an authentic emotional investment. As the ultimate underdog, Rey was able to make people truly care, adding gravity to his each and every flurry.

Mysterio never felt truly backed by the WWE’s creative forces but his greatness was above that. If anything, it was a fitting side-plot, the giant-slayer that with each and every epic, came closer to slaying the biggest giant of all. He always had a point to prove, a statement to send. Though he may not have fit the mould of any stateside world champion that came before him, Mysterio could be the exception to that rule. His skill-set said so but more than that, his place in the audience’s hearts said so too.

Famously, Mysterio would reach that mountaintop at WrestleMania 22, but it wasn’t quite what it could’ve and probably should’ve been. That didn’t stop Mysterio’s mastery though, returning to form time and time again, producing immense work years later. In 2009 especially, Mysterio was arguably at a personal best in terms of balance, with that chapter or two being the last before his inevitable decline. Those years weren’t as loaded with daring thrillers that’d live forever but the consistency was unparalleled, cementing Mysterio as a historically great television wrestler.

Mysterio was just so watchable, able to find something of substance in the most aimless of offerings. Against uninteresting opponents with uninteresting setups, Mysterio would have interesting matches. They wouldn’t last long in the memory perhaps, not the classic world title epic but even still, such compelling television in a time that bell to bell, wasn’t always rich with that. After a run of that calibre, Mysterio’s time in WWE deserved a better conclusion, instead painfully stumbling to his 2015 departure.

At the time, Mysterio wasn’t inspiring much hope for a career revival. Instead, he was widely considered finished, physically decimated and just a spent force in general. As usual though, Mysterio soon proved otherwise though, rejuvenated in a world tour before eventually returning to WWE in 2018. Weirdly, things felt genuinely different in Mysterio’s case, as though he’d missed a whole generation’s entry. Due to injuries and such, he basically had, inactive for much of his original stay’s final portion.

Now though, Mysterio was ready to right those wrongs, combining with a new crop of talent to create clashes that’d only enhance his legacy. The most obvious opponent being Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, a third-generation Mexican star that seemed set for stardom. In the end, Mysterio would somehow outlast Andrade within that system but that didn’t stop them from together, producing some of the most electric matches in recent main roster memory. Andrade allowed Mysterio to display something striking, something almost new.

In those matches and honestly, the best bouts since Rey’s return to relevance, he was an incredible combination of his prior-selves. In broad strokes, Mysterio spent one decade as a daredevil and the next as a more traditional, restrained protagonist. That’s an incredible career, certainly but since then, Mysterio has found this mix of the two. Physically, Rey came back with a dynamism that just wasn’t present beforehand, lost along the way as schedule and style had forced him to slow.

Now though, Mysterio was innovating again, doing things that if silhouetted, would’ve seemed like Nitro throwbacks. He still had that emotional connection though also, an innate ability to earn sympathy with the simplest of sell. That’s an incredible blend for any talent at any time but for Rey to find it after already producing over two decades of ground-breaking brilliance, that’s something for the history books. Honestly though, that’s where Mysterio belongs in general at this juncture, even as he continues to produce, adding another highlight each and every month.

In fear of being presumptive, we’re likely in the homestretch of Rey’s in-ring career. I mean, he could prove otherwise, he has before but at 46, it feels as though even in his current form, the end is surely near. Naturally, that forces a sense of clarity when watching someone’s work. It’s hard to ignore the inevitable, difficult to get as lost on the weekly rollercoaster of wrestling television. Instead, everything has this grander meaning, an acknowledgment that this is all worth embracing.

After all, this can’t last forever, we won’t always have Mysterio matches every other Friday. He’s been so accessible for so long that it’s easy to lose sight of that, the reality that the time to enjoy this ride is running out. Though his performances have suggested otherwise for as long as we can remember, Rey Mysterio is human. This isn’t a never-ending comic book, though it may look that way at times. Personally, I’m going to appreciate Mysterio while I can, I’d recommend that you do the same.

Banks vs. Belair: One Goal in Mind

At WrestleMania 37, history was made. Headlining night one, Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks combined for a match that’ll live forever, a rare modern moment that felt like exactly that, a moment in time. This wasn’t forced and unearned, it was entrancing, a completely immersive experience that took fans on that familiar rollercoaster. They hit every emotion, never even threatening to overstay their welcome. Together, Banks and Belair provided the perfect conclusion to what’ll be an iconic three hours of WrestleMania, back in front of fans at last, a collective sigh of relief.

For Banks, that was always the goal and by 2021, it certainly felt overdue. Arriving on the main roster six years prior, Banks entered as the audience’s elected figurehead, soon being forcefully cemented below that position. Banks was featured and prominently too, but it never quite felt as it could, and perhaps should have. She wasn’t the centrepiece, still pursuing the potential that was so pronounced in NXT. On RAW and SmackDown, Banks had produced in a major way but it always felt in spite of the creative forces at hand.

By contrast, this was Belair’s first WrestleMania as a main roster member, being called up immediately after 2020’s empty arena edition. Following a slow start, Belair found her feet after being drafted to SmackDown, winning the Royal Rumble only three months later. A feud with Bayley was Belair’s only real preparation for such a scenario, performing exclusively without fans since leaving NXT. Before that, Belair did shine in the 2020 Royal Rumble, which boded well but even still, this was a serious sign of faith if nothing else.

Though the obvious destination as soon as Belair triumphed, her feud with Banks wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed. That didn’t lessen anyone’s confidence in the match itself though, even with Belair’s relative inexperience. Frankly, this felt really quite simple, Sasha Banks wasn’t missing in a WrestleMania main event, she’s probably not missing in any match of that magnitude. Banks is one of the most creative, prolific in-ring performers on earth and underwhelming build aside, she now finally felt positioned to succeed.

Not only was Banks central on ‘the grandest stage of them all,’ but she was opposite an opponent that represented unique possibilities. Simply put, Belair is an athlete unlike any other, almost certainly the best that this women’s division has ever seen. That unlocked opportunities that just weren’t feasible against anyone else, as Banks had an opponent with incomparable raw ingredients. Even though Belair didn’t have a decorated match catalogue yet, this felt like the perfect place to start, an immense mix of factors coming together at once.

Going in, the match felt can’t-miss, an inevitable match of the night candidate. In execution though, they strived for something far different, taking a bold detour that catapulted this beyond any year-end list. Finally reaching the stage that for over a decade, she’d so publicly strived for, Banks wasn’t seeking just another classic. Considering the talent involved, that almost felt too easy. An enthralling exchange of back and forth offence, that’s the safe route. Pack the thing with near-falls, and send them home happy.

That’s not what separates Sasha Banks though, it’s her attention to detail and her mind for a match’s nuance. It’s that trait which makes her chemistry with Bayley so magical, an element that’ll hopefully stay with Belair after working so extensively with both. Based on WrestleMania, that’s a fair assumption also, as Belair performed with the poise of a decorated veteran. She was certainly positioned to succeed too, as in the match of her dreams, Banks took things in a daring direction.

For just over seventeen minutes, Banks played the role of crash test dummy, almost exclusively bouncing around the WrestleMania ring. In the most innovative ways imaginable, Belair basically dominated proceedings, with Banks just trying to stay afloat. Every step seemed to spotlight another piece of Belair’s potential, bridging today’s skill-set and tomorrow’s projections in one fell swoop. Belair had long been circled as an eventual superstar and though she’d taken strikes towards that term at Royal Rumble, she was completing the process in front of our eyes at WrestleMania.

Now more than ever, engaging in-ring action is commonplace. That’s one thing, but having an idea that lives long in the memory, that’s another. Excitement is easy, something enduring is what events of this scale are built on. When I think back to Banks vs. Belair, I remember those same visuals that you do, the hair whip and just the many stunning combinations of Belair’s pure power with Banks’ brilliant brain. Beyond those clips that’ll always replay in my mind though, it’s the core concept that sticks most.

This match had one idea in mind, a clear goal to complete. After years of waiting to be the focus, Sasha Banks was selfless enough to so effortlessly reassign that honour when it mattered most. This was an opportunity that couldn’t be recreated, a moment that warranted more than just another epic. Banks didn’t need the protection of a grand, glitzy finishing stretch, Belair just needed to win. There will be another day for that sequence, another time for their most complete match but this was a chance to do something that lives forever.

At WrestleMania, Sasha Banks so willingly welcomed Bianca Belair onto a tier that had become increasingly exclusive. If things go as they should, the rest will be history, all traced back to a performance giving enough that in front of 25000 people, Belair became iconic. It was the right choice for the right talent, a decision that should shape the division’s next decade, setting the standard and starting a new era, all at once. In a landscape of the interchangeable, Banks and Belair set themselves apart, producing something not only timeless, but truly significant.

In many ways, it’s a throwback WrestleMania classic in the most modern fashion imaginable, one that’s ideas should inspire and motivate a generation.

My WrestleMania Moment

If you’ve watched The Distraction podcast, you’ll probably know where I’m headed here. Well, considering that we’ve produced approximately 917 hours of audio at this point, there’s a good chance that you’ve forgotten it too. Thankfully, I have 24 articles to write and this fits the bill, so let’s take a trip down nightmare, or memory lane. Firstly, just want to stress that obviously, I’m only having fun here. I mean, it was pretty brutal but it’s a night at the fake fights nonetheless, can’t argue with that really.

Please do not allow my misfortune to sway your wrestling dream trip either, it’s still WrestleMania. It’s not a predictable thing but it is a spectacle so if that’s the goal, enjoy the ride when it comes. Unfortunately, my ‘WrestleMania moment’ was enough for a lifetime really, and I’m not even sure why. For those unaware, I attended WrestleMania 34, flying stateside and then sharing a road-trip to New Orleans. I know, I know, hang on, that’s not even a bad show you big sulker, grow up a bit, nerd!

All very fair but here’s my story anyway, best I can recall it at least. It’s this one particular moment that sticks with me, after Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax, of course. Not going where you’d think here though, as I think that was fine, actually! Looking back, the night was trending in one direction and we were all awaiting a non-existent revival, but that’s lost on us at the time. Most things are really, your legs are cramped and you’re sweating bullets, as there’s just no good way to dress for a 14-hour wrestling event.

Either way, the show started in grand fashion, featuring an inoffensive pre-show before three of the first four main card matches connected emphatically. I even got a tastemaker triumph in there along the way, correctly predicting the end of Asuka’s streak. Few things sum me up as much as that, objectively disagreeing with a decision but still, enjoying that I was proved right if nothing else. Beforehand, the Intercontinental Title triple threat was immense and to her credit, Ronda Rousey’s debut was historically great also.

Then, things took a turn. Quality was sacrificed for credibility, as The Bludgeon Brothers basically crushed New Day and The Usos. That was a respectable choice in truth, especially fine because I got to see the bout’s iconic rivalry reignited on Smackdown Live, two days later. By the way, the blue brand sent me home and I’m almost certain they did AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan, which feels like something I should remember. Also, Dolph Ziggler followed Bud Murph and wore an Alexa Bliss shirt. Peak Dolph.

He was the trip’s final match, losing to Shinsuke Nakamura after being distracted by a fat guy that had been put to sleep by 205 Live. Lots of people fell asleep during that show, it ruled. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, The Bludgeon Brothers. Well, after that, The Undertaker returned and again, quality wasn’t the goal there. Understandable though and harmless too, a short spectacle after such daring initial bouts. After that, Daniel Bryan’s comeback was impressively boring, but such is the reality of Shane McMahon.

That was a stumble in my view, others probably feel the same about Bliss vs. Jax. Either way, I’ll never forget my relief after that match, Bryan bores be damned. My phone was on its last legs, a mere percent or two left standing, so I logged on for one last time. Believe it was the folks at Voices of Wrestling, inadvertently reassuring me from a distance. The tweet’s message was simple, basically saying that considering what’s left, we’re home and dry, this is safe as an excellent WrestleMania event.

What a result, we’d done the hard part and could now just enjoy ourselves, two world titles and a surprise ahead. Granted, I hadn’t moved since last week but still, AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura man, all hail! Well, 10 minutes later and I was surrounded by beachballs. At the time, I was probably very mad but in truth, their match was just misplaced. That approach can’t live as deep in a show as this was and so, they lost us almost immediately, fighting uphill from there.

It wasn’t a bad match, not even close but I also don’t remember it and am too scared to rewatch. That feels telling, but maybe it’s more indicative of me losing my mind at some point that night. It was all okay though, because Braun Strowman had a mystery partner next, so we were getting something exciting! It’s WrestleMania after all, perhaps a Samoa Joe return, maybe even Bobby Lashley’s re-debut. Then again, maybe it’ll just be Nicholas. Look, this was harmless but after 41 hours? No, it actually felt very harmful.

Oh well, we still have the main event, a rematch from three years prior, a classic clash between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of what came next, as the crowd completely rejected Reigns and as a result, the whole match itself. Again, I was probably mad at the time but looking back, they crowbarred Reigns into that role and ignored every retort, so it’s hard to be surprised that people didn’t restrain themselves after fourteen matches.

Not Reigns’ fault obviously, just another response to that growing resentment. This was closer to apathy though, a dismissive rejection that through circumstance alone, was becoming a familiar trait in Reigns main events. I’m thankful that he can rewrite that reality now, as he really is immense, just such a shame that in trying to smash him over, they so often got Reigns under. He lost that night too, which basically made the last year of programming feel pointless. Those of us still invested just wanted the payoff, but it had been delayed again.

As people slowly departed, there was such a strange atmosphere that night. It wasn’t celebratory or energetic but instead, simply flat, all with an underlying frustration. By that point, the event’s peaks were almost forgotten. That isn’t fair but it was certainly the case for me, genuinely befuddled by my own state. It was a complete contrast with the night prior, as I left NXT TakeOver in awe, the best wrestling show that you could ever wish to see. All jokes aside, that was certainly eye-opening to me. At that point, I got it.

I wasn’t chanting boring and I wasn’t bashing beachballs around but I was certainly restless, definitely distracted. WrestleMania became a puzzling event for a while there, with the main event being the industry’s poisoned chalice. Hopefully, this 2-night format is here to stay as I’d rather not relive that endurance test, not even from home.

Dolph Ziggler: Windows of Opportunity

Though wrestling history will eventually find its consensus, I’m a firm believer that even the most dismissed men and women had their moments. Take Ryback for example, an industry punching bag now but once upon a time, he represented an opportunity. A brief window to commit and make a star that instead, swiftly disintegrated. Now, that choice may not have changed a thing in the grand scheme of things, as Ryback could’ve found his eventual destination regardless. That’s an understandable guess, but it doesn’t erase the reality.

Another, more recently relevant example is Braun Strowman, who only years removed from potential superstardom, was unceremoniously released. After falling at the first hurdle, maybe even the second, Strowman could rebuild but before long, he’s just another name on that dreaded list. Strowman’s departure surprised people, though it didn’t necessarily upset them. Instead, the ardent viewer had made their mind up, almost conceding defeat as just like his usage, Strowman’s performances declined. Perhaps my favourite case of this truth is Dolph Ziggler though, a somehow still active member of the WWE roster.

Ziggler is too reliable, too versatile and frankly, too good to fall away at the pace of those prior names. Instead, Ziggler remains valuable but in terms of perception, he couldn’t be more distanced from his peak. Ziggler had three single moments, individual opportunities that could’ve catapulted his career upwards. One by one though, they faded, regardless of how unfathomable that seemed during the thrill of each high. Though there was certainly stumbles beforehand, I think the first window arrives in April 2013. Indeed, THAT cash-in victory.

The reaction to that triumph isn’t an accident, it’s a credit to Ziggler’s hard work but also, a knowing resentment of his assumed struggle. There was a sense that Ziggler’s biggest foes were in the front office, earning a raw support that frankly, has only been recaptured a handful of times since. They even weaponized that alleged acrimony, having Ziggler almost lose a time or two and hooking the audience seamlessly along the way. Either way, Ziggler left with the big gold crown, wrestling’s most heroic heel.

One month later, Ziggler was concussed and two months later, he was no longer champion. On the bright side, the audience’s emotional investment was finally embraced, as Ziggler pulled off an immense double-turn in his crushing title loss. The follow-up? Well, he just lost again really, there was no follow-up. In fact, Ziggler almost vanished before long, returning to undercard status in an instant, apparently deemed “injury prone.” To translate, Ziggler wasn’t a chosen one and for now, that was the elected explanation.

Awaiting any kind of genuine opportunity though, Ziggler soon rebounded, returning to form in late 2014. In my view, this is Ziggler’s peak of performance, even if it doesn’t quite match the year prior in terms of relevance. He was in the perfect role now though, eventually resulting in a staggering Survivor Series performance, vanquishing The Authority as Sole Survivor. Well, basically anyway, overcoming a 3-1 deficit but also, being forgotten for around five minutes while Sting stared at Triple H.

Cool moment? Sure, worth emphasising over Ziggler’s potential coronation? Ideally, no but the writing was on the wall and at WrestleMania, any doubt would be erased. By that point, Ziggler was just another guy in the ladder match, a familiar role for the guy that five months prior, seemed set to finally break through. In truth, that’s the end of this story, but there is one final shot at redemption. Another two years down the line, Ziggler produced an unexpected masterpiece, taking The Miz’s Intercontinental Title at No Mercy 2016.

Realistically, this window makes those other instances look like walls. Ziggler’s fate was sealed, this just another reminder for those of us that somehow, still cared. Since then, Ziggler has been fighting uphill, mostly operating as a bitter villain that’s usually responded to with a dismissive groan. Like anyone else, Ziggler certainly has flaws, but he didn’t earn that reaction, his presentation did. At some point, he went from tomorrow’s star to yesterday’s afterthought, the inevitable result of those fleeting opportunities being ignored.

Realistically, this is quite obviously McMahon’s set of toys and now more than ever, he’s unwilling to share. In his mind, Ziggler just wasn’t that guy and no performance could prove otherwise, no crowd reaction would convince him. That doesn’t render Ziggler’s career irrelevant, simply frustrating. He’s still been a featured figure for the industry leader, sustaining his stint with over a decade of success. That’s no mean feat and demands respect, but it’s hard to enjoy the full image without glaring at those single signs of what could’ve been.

Quite simply, the promotion saw Ziggler one way, while much of the audience saw him another. That’s fine, a familiar tale but perhaps what makes Ziggler such an extreme example is his loyalty. Well, you may frame it differently and fair enough, we’ll never know Ziggler’s motivation in general, let alone to consistently re-sign. That’s his choice and it’s almost certainly made him a very wealthy man, fulfilled potential or not. It’s a complicated legacy, one that’ll probably age well but right now, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

I’ll always have those three moments though, glaring windows of opportunity that with each passing day, are steadily forgotten. That’s a shame but Ziggler’s exclusive host always have written the history books and probably always will, so he’s at least in good hands I suppose.  

The BlissCross Conundrum

One year ago, I was fighting a losing battle. With my emotional investment on the decline, I decided that I’d behave, enjoying BlissCross’ tag title reign in peace. That peace was soon quite loudly interrupted though and about a month later, Bliss was suddenly lost in the most feared world of all. That world of course being the Fiend-verse, then belonging to yes, you guessed it: ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt. Not ideal, but I tried my best until at some point, concluding that wrestling is bad, actually.

Nikki Cross represented some hope though, naïve as it may have been. I sensed that maybe, just maybe, Cross could halt that progression, saving Bliss from ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt after all. Now, that hope still lives but in a very different form, as Cross has become an Almost Super Hero, a shtick brutal enough that honestly, I think I’d rather Bliss just stay as she is. It’s a complex world we cover here folks, many layers, twists and turns at every corner.

In all seriousness, this topic has intrigued me as of late. I mean, not really but I have 24 of these things to write, so not all of them will be interesting. With that being said, there’s a topic in here somewhere. Look, I love both of these talents, think the world of them in a range of roles, just immensely valuable and versatile performers. Unfortunately, I actively despise both of their current presentations and most of all, get the sense that they’d disagree with my assessment.

That may sound dumb but trust me, it’s not. If you think that your fav’s current direction or gimmick sucks, they probably agree, especially if they’re operating on RAW or SmackDown. Bliss and Cross seem to be outward exceptions to that rule though, with the latter publicizing her push for this presentation. It’s more guess work regarding Bliss but she’s certainly thrown herself into the role and from the outside looking in at least, appears to be having a whale of a time.

Clearly, that’s fine but unfortunately, I think it sucks. Now, from what I can gather, this conflict has divided the many wrestling tastemakers of our world. Some, like myself, have a rather blunt outlook, “well, this is very bad so maybe I should run away and pretend that it’s not happening.” Others, bless them, are more generous, offering support based on their energetic efforts alone. That works, especially if you actually like the direction which obviously, some do. I know a YouTube view when I see one folks.

In fear of losing my way though, this conversation leads me in Malakai Black’s direction. My genuine take is that some professional wrestlers just have bad creative instincts. Well, not bad necessarily, simply instincts that don’t align with my personal taste. I shouldn’t say bad as again, that’s lazy considering that I’m simply not the audience for a comic book hero and/or a spooky witch lady. Either way, not all wrestlers will head down your preferred path if allowed freedom, for better or worse.

That’s simple enough really, it’d be silly to assume otherwise but in the same way, I personally find it equally silly to pretend that I’m onboard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rushing to disparage either woman, I’m just not watching this portion of their career. If they get back on track at some point, I’ll happily hop into the praise, but I’m not stumbling alongside them in the name of loyalty or whatever. That probably makes it my fault when inevitably, creative decides that actually yes, this does suck.

With all respect to the talent, that’s one element that I will stick to my guns on. I’ve experienced this cycle before but for those uninitiated, I’ll explain, best I can of course without coming across like a lunatic. Basically, you know something is bad but in the name of optimism, you pretend that it’s good. Then, the older McMahon will wake up one day and be like “man, this is bad huh?” immediately removing it from television without explanation. Suddenly, your optimism is rather useless.

Wow, that was actually very easy to explain, perhaps this is my real skill after all. Maybe I should write a book, guiding folks through wrestling twitter and selling only six but changing at least two lives along the way. Maybe not though. Anyway, BlissCross man, what a fun team! I love stuff like that, just bizarre chemistry that you don’t see coming but immediately makes sense, one of the few benefits of producing television with such unapologetic haphazardness. Sometimes, you just fall into something of substance.

Unfortunately, the creative forces of RAW and SmackDown don’t seem to embrace those fortunate falls anymore, they haven’t for some time. Instead, they climb out and run away, leaving a shoe or two behind in the process. BlissCross was an act that should’ve rejuvenated Bliss while making Cross. At the very least, it should’ve ticked one of those boxes but instead, it was really just another wasted chapter. Enjoyable for me? Sure and I’m glad that it happened but in the grand scheme of things, the result was as hollow as their initial interaction.

You can’t recreate those possibilities and I resent that potential’s erasure but Bliss and Cross are still in the game so if allowed, I’m sure they’ll create another opportunity eventually. Whether it’ll be capitalized upon or not, time will tell but for now, I’m firmly disconnected and purely as a fan, that makes me rather sad, must say.

Brock Lesnar Business

Even today, few wrestlers garner as much debate and discussion as Brock Lesnar. Fifteen months removed from the ring, Lesnar remains in the headlines, all without saying a word himself. That mystique is part of the appeal of course, the very real sense that we never really know what Lesnar is thinking, let alone where he’s headed. In fact, he could be officially retired and we wouldn’t really know, unless Paul Heyman makes some sort of emotional statement on his behalf I suppose.

Scratch that, who am I kidding? Such a speech would only further spark speculation about Lesnar’s inevitable return. In fairness, very few wrestlers conclude their career in a WrestleMania main event. Thus far, that’s the case for Lesnar though, losing the WWE Title to Drew McIntyre in the uncomfortably empty Performance Centre. Since then, we’ve all been waiting, quietly initially and now as fans return, increasingly loudly. With each week, that perception shifts too, earning more excitement than fear or frustration.

No doubt, the return of Brock Lesnar is a complex conversation but the talent remains cut and dry. Lesnar is historically great, an industry outlier in every way. As the talent pool’s split between stars and supporting acts leans more and more in the latter’s direction, Lesnar’s value only expands. In an 8-year stint, Lesnar avoided an era-defining trend, remaining on a tier firmly above the rest. Stars would reach his level on occasion, especially when sharing the ring with Lesnar himself but few could, or were allowed to, maintain that status.

Since turning heel last year, Roman Reigns has finally managed it, making significant strides while ironically, Lesnar silently sits the bench. In Reigns’ story, you find the root of debate about Lesnar, the reality of another return. The talent speaks for itself, as does the reputation, both as an athlete and a draw. That doesn’t tell the entire tale though, quite the opposite. The truth is that Lesnar’s usage became a crutch, the safe exit route after every gamble. If in doubt, put the belt on Brock and in doing so, remove it from the show.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy really, the perception that Lesnar’s standing as the brand’s sole star ensuring that no other stars would be made. The ongoing struggle to create stars can’t be divorced from Lesnar, the promotion’s go-to band-aid in a time so desperately requiring innovation. Lesnar became the embodiment of a seemingly never-ending holding pattern, the sense that we’re always waiting for another turning point, forced or unforced. The truth is though, Lesnar has been a constant, central in every alleged restart.

Now, after stumbling through a global pandemic, WWE returns to live crowds and yet here we are again, awaiting Lesnar’s comeback. The fan in me can only be excited for that, especially with a Bobby Lashley dream match available but it’s not as simple as that. Sure, I want the match but can I trust the direction that comes with it? I’ll willingly sign up for quarterly Brock bouts but another world title reign for the sake of one more hollow coronation? No, I think we’ve explored that route enough for a lifetime now.

In different hands, Lesnar’s presence could bring some excitement back to RAW or SmackDown when both shows need it most. Lashley is the obvious choice but even reviving the programme with Reigns, now roles reversed, feels fresh to me. The available Heyman dynamic is particularly enticing, allowing an altered presentation for Lesnar at last. Now, perhaps I’m being unfair. On multiple occasions, both Lesnar and WWE seemed to have good intentions but for many reasons, they seldom produced a fitting finale.

Reigns never truly triumphed over Lesnar and when he almost did, the reign was robbed from him so that always assumed endgame was erased. That wasn’t anyone’s fault, let alone Lesnar’s but the belt going back in his direction certainly didn’t help. To his credit though, Lesnar was inspired at SummerSlam 2019, cementing Seth Rollins in grand fashion. Unfortunately, his efforts were immediately undone by Rollins’ handling afterwards, further damaged by yet another title reign that within months, had Lesnar back as RAW’s centerpiece.

It’s a great act, but in that form, it has nothing left to offer. More than that, it doesn’t just exist in a vacuum either as when champion, Lesnar’s presence seems to actively stall their creative motivation. Even without Lesnar, WWE has struggled to make a gamechanger but necessity is the mother of invention, allowing Lashley to finally fulfil his potential during Brock’s absence. RAW is unquestionably stagnant but Lesnar isn’t the solution for anything but star-power which at some point, has to come from a different source.

Lesnar can’t always be the answer, there has to be another way. For all their efforts, Lashley and McIntyre combined may not make for the attraction that Lesnar does, but the process shouldn’t stop there. This can’t be a case of conceding defeat after the most trying era in WWE history, it should simply inspire yet another roll of the dice. There’s a place for Brock Lesnar, a prominent one at that but as the industry is forced into a fresh start, a return to the mind-numbing norm just can’t be the move.

The Land of Opportunity

In 2016, there was a sense that things were changing. Naïve as it may be, NXT’s presence earned some optimism, as WWE dramatically altered their approach to talent recruitment. Their outlook had changed, finally reacting to the increasingly relevant wider wrestling world. In January, they’d signed AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, two titans of NJPW’s recent hot streak. Once the assumed antithesis of a WWE Superstar, Kevin Owens was now a headline act on their previously impenetrable main roster.

As NXT symbolised a potentially brighter future though, the main roster had some catching up to do. Increasingly stagnant, RAW failed to capitalise on The Shield’s monumental split, with Roman Reigns’ ill-advised push reigniting that familiar resentment. As their dynamic with the audience declined back to square one, WWE shook things up again, bringing back the brand split. An always polarising concept, the brand split had been slowly phased out five years earlier, reaching its natural conclusion as the promotion’s talent pool shrunk.

Now though, talent was once again feeling truly underutilized. Not just misplaced either, unfulfilled as clean slates, still waiting for a genuine opportunity of any kind. With that in mind, the brand split made sense, even if some work would have to be done in terms of star power. The talent was certainly there though and as always, the ardent viewer’s eyes headed in SmackDown’s direction. Us nerds love ourselves a pretend underdog and for two decades, SmackDown has provided exactly that.

You can debate how often that SmackDown has actually been good but then again, you can do the same with RAW and for whatever reason, the blue brand has always appealed to me most. It could be something as dumb as the color scheme, perhaps it’s just the top guys that I associate with that show. I don’t know but taste and preferences aside, we can’t lose sight of what SmackDown was at that time. By 2016, the show was years removed from any relevance.

It had never been as eventful as RAW but this most recent era had reached new lows, featuring multi-man tags and little else. The brand split’s return offered a chance to change that though, the start of a new era for the programme that many still rooted for. On draft night, it wasn’t easy to maintain that hope, let alone expectations. In Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles, John Cena and Randy Orton, SmackDown certainly had a core worthy of your attention but elsewhere, it was slightly less exciting.

Alongside those names were what remained of Bray Wyatt, The Miz and Dolph Ziggler. Their women’s division would be led by Becky Lynch who for all of her immense talent, had been positioned firmly below RAW’s Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks. She didn’t appear to have much help either, with a supporting cast of Natalya and Naomi as well as unheralded NXT callups Alexa Bliss and Carmella. Though not without potential, that didn’t seem like a group that could make its own belt matter.

The tag division wasn’t lacking leadership, being built around The Usos and NXT’s American Alpha. The former were struggling however, entering to boos as their energetic babyface act became increasingly stale. That was the least of the tag ranks’ worries though as again, there just wasn’t much depth. An initial SummerSlam offering of Dolph Ziggler vs. Dean Ambrose didn’t immediately silence any doubts either but before long, things began to take shape and almost overnight, that perception swiftly shifted.

Armed with television time at last, stagnant characters found a more fitting form, prospects gained some momentum. The top guys did top guy things, as AJ Styles finally reached the unthinkable mountaintop, becoming WWE Champion and combining with Ambrose and Cena for an immense title scene. Others slotted in and out but those three led SmackDown through to February 2017, barely missing along the way. A genuine dream match, Cena and Styles were a magical mix but Ambrose wasn’t out of place, showing especially impressive chemistry with ‘The Phenomenal One.’

Below that, The Miz produced his personal best work, becoming the greatest Intercontinental Champion in recent memory. Opposite Ziggler, Miz made his often debated ceiling apparent, the perfect antagonist in a truly gripping conflict. That was a throwback personal issue, the kind of programme once synonymous with that beautiful white belt. Ziggler even put his career on the line, leading to a masterpiece with Miz at No Mercy. This wasn’t a fresh match, nor was it even a particularly interesting one, it just worked.

Things were allowed to breathe as quite frankly, they had to. Necessity is the mother of invention after all, as SmackDown’s women’s division continually showed. Lacking a lead villain, SmackDown was soon without their first choice of Eva Marie, trying Carmella briefly before settling on Alexa Bliss. Initially appearing to be nothing more than Becky Lynch’s first successful title defence, Bliss grew immensely in that time, maximising the opportunities that had eluded her in NXT. There was an obvious chip on her shoulder, rich in every single promo segment.

With that vacancy filled, the SmackDown women soon became one of the programme’s most popular puzzle pieces. It was very much a group effort, all guided by Lynch’s leadership and eventually, allowing Naomi to receive the coronation that’s so often seemed impossible. That was a story they’d continually missed and honestly, still do but ‘The Land of Opportunity’ made it happen, even if only for a moment or two. Bolstered by Nikki Bella and Mickie James along the way, that division is a rare modern example of positioning talent to succeed.

They made the most of in truth, very little and though that particular crop only stayed together for less than a year, it’s still spoken about fondly. People remember those times, I think they always will honestly. That division was so dynamic that they actively cut into the tag division’s time. It didn’t hurt the show’s quality either, even if The Usos progression towards their eventual heel brilliance was slightly slowed. In early 2017, SmackDown somewhat lost its way, finally changing for good as things were shaken up, again.

Over four years later, SmackDown is now the A-Show, airing on FOX and built around ‘The Tribal Chief’ Roman Reigns. RAW is no fake underdog though, it’s still very much the status quo. The promotion’s consensus leader in terms of quality, SmackDown is stronger than ever these days but in terms of feel, it’s certainly very different now. Right or wrong, there was a sense of struggle to that 2016 squad. They were the afterthoughts, the forgotten ones, a collection of missed opportunities.

The result was something special, a fleeting reminder that this stuff can still connect and sometimes, it happens when you least expect.