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.

Championship Crossroads, Post-PPV Problems | Takes, Takes & More Takes #23

Yes indeed folks, ‘Takes’ is back…again! Though maybe not quite as consistently as before, I do want to keep this series around, for better or worse. AEW has its own weekly project now so alongside that, I intend to use this format to cover the other products and promotions that interest me. This week, that has me analyzing ROH and IMPACT’s post-PPV efforts as well as NXT’s divisive build towards TakeOver. Three different shows, all chasing eyeballs and running into brick walls along the way. In fairness, I can relate, so let’s get this show on the road!


Less than a month removed from their critically acclaimed Best in the World PPV, ROH finds themselves in a familiar position. Moderate buzz was gained and then immediately lost, as the promotion’s television product remains a non-factor in the industry’s daily discussion. Wrestling is red hot right now in that sense, with shocking news every other day and yet, ROH couldn’t feel further distanced from the excitement. They just feel isolated, which is a complete contrast to their prior place as the wider wrestling world’s US home.

That’s a real shame too, as the product itself continues to impress. I’ve actually been out of the loop slightly and so, this most recent return was my first viewing of the TV in a few months. Once again, I found myself engaged by the palpable contrast between Shane Taylor Promotions and The Foundation. I don’t think this has been an actual story really, just an obvious clash that they’ve used for some good TV content. It works, could just probably be more, though I understand that story-wise, Violence Unlimited have been The Foundation’s more direct opposition.

That’s fine, as they appear to be an awesome act also but I must say, Shane Taylor Promotions is something special. This is the act that makes ROH’s lack of traction most obvious, as this thing should be an absolute smash hit across the board. It isn’t just Taylor either, as Kaun and Moses, the Soldiers of Savagery, are a money tag team too, one that’ll make a lot of money for years to come. They are an imposing, visually striking tandem but there’s range between them also, with Kaun the more flashy counterpart to Moses’ brute force.

In this particular 8-man tag, STP’s championship trio were joined by their own O’Shay Edwards, who eventually scored the win here. Edwards is a potential star in his own right, making this one of the more complete ‘acts’ around, a truly can’t miss pro wrestling faction. That’s not to take away from The Foundation either, who I still love even if admittedly, this whole thing seems to have been less interesting than it probably could’ve been. I do love the usage of those on the outskirts though, like ROH Dojo product Joe Keys here, established as Jonathan Gresham’s student.

In other news, ROH dedicated this week’s television to the Women of Honor title tournament, featuring three first round matches. This wasn’t a home run or anything, but it was a good start for a revived division that’s previously been infamous. Up first, Miranda Alize advanced opposite Alex Gracia and I probably would’ve placed this in the middle, as it wasn’t the strongest start to proceedings. Gracia has had better showings and for now at least, Alize’s base style is a little rough around the edges. Her strikes looked great at times though, and there’s certainly promise on both sides.

Perhaps my personal favourite performance of the night came second though, as Nicole Savoy defeated Mazzerati. The latter has some raw ingredients for sure but this was the Savoy show, which is telling as I actually think she was working well within herself here. Savoy is a building block for this division, the kind that should be a constant as this project takes shape. Finally, ROH established Rok-C as a ‘Prodigy’ indeed, eliminating a former champion in Sumie Sakai. Guided by a veteran, I thought Rok-C mostly lived up to the hype, producing this episode’s best match in my view.

Either way, credit to ROH for actually committing to the women this time around, which was the main issue last time. We can analyse the many prior problems, both unavoidable and self-inflicted but at core, that’s the reality. They just didn’t care enough and it showed, whereas this already feels different on intention alone. I’m quietly confident honestly, as this line-up looks promising but more than that, this thing has Maria Kanellis behind it internally which thus far, appears to be a positive for all involved. Rooting for the women and rooting for Ring of Honor, important months ahead.


Suddenly tasked with a momentary return to taped television and on a different network also, NXT’s time isn’t getting any easier. After years of being almost protected from the pressures of pro wrestling, this brand is now dealing with an onslaught of issues, many of which are out of their hands. For example, it’s not ideal that their unbeatable champion is losing flat on Monday Night RAW, nor is it helpful that multiple key players in the women’s division were called up overnight. It’s a struggle now, things have changed.

With that being said, this product remains steady, a cold, but competent contrast to the discussion surrounding it. In fact, I enjoyed this particular show quite a bit, but perception is reality and unfortunately, that’s NXT’s biggest hurdle right now. Either way, I’m happy to see Hit Row turn babyface after all, as this was a potential issue that I circled only a few weeks ago. Well, think they’re babyfaces at least but if not, they’re certainly framed that way opposite Legado Del Fantasma. That programme opened this week’s show, with a tag match excluding the respective leaders.

Ashante Adonis isn’t there yet but I must say, he’s incredibly striking. I vividly recall first seeing Adonis on 205 Live, as I found myself befuddled at his lack of buzz and hype. Relatively speaking, that’s since changed, or by NXT standards anyway. He’ll improve on his already impressive base in-ring but in terms of star quality, it’s already there, he’s just got something. By contrast, I’m waiting for Top Dolla’s magnetism to translate in-ring but I sense that’s a confidence thing, which will fix itself before long. Nonetheless, he offered an encouraging hot tag here.

Assuming that ‘Swerve’ will eventually retain his North American Title, I’d imagine that this is LDF’s send-off, right? That feels like a main roster act to me, can churn out strong TV action if nothing else. Speaking of such, Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong certainly did that here, producing an unsurprisingly engaging affair. Considering their history, this would ideally mean more than it did but at the end of the day, it’s 3 vs. 4, with Fish now firmly cemented on the tier below even Strong. Regardless, that didn’t stop these two from doing their thing.

It was a bruising battle, intense and physical throughout in a fashion that felt alive in a way that modern TV matches seldom do. This wasn’t following a playbook, it was unfolding in front of your eyes, even in picture-in-picture. That’s not to say it was a special match or even anything beyond “good,” just thought it was worth crediting them on that front. Strong vs. Kushida is the endgame here and that’s a positive, plain and simple. Honestly, I think both guys could be higher on the card but if you want the Cruiserweights to matter, this’ll help.

This may surprise some, but I even like Cameron Grimes’ ongoing antics with LA Knight. I don’t think that any product should be exclusively one thing and with the 2-hour runtime, NXT especially needs variety. I mean, even those glory days that I so often reference had comedy, Bull-Fit comes to mind. It helps that I think both guys are genuinely good in this silliness and the result is something that doesn’t feel a million miles away from your usual wrestling nonsense. Put it this way, I’d much rather turn talent this way rather than just having them work heels.

With that in mind, I’m stunned to see Dakota Kai as the apparent heel of this women’s title programme. Raquel Gonzalez is a bigtime prospect and I get the fascination but your audience isn’t rushing to cheer her at all. Kai on the other hand? She was and still could be a natural babyface, embrace her prior arc and use this feud to complete it. That’d be my play anyway but as is, Kai cut a strong promo here, explaining herself with conviction. I don’t know, just think the match itself has a far lower ceiling in this form.

As the de facto babyface (I think), Raquel will inevitably sell for a lengthy heat segment that if roles were reversed, could be transformative in Kai’s hands. No good crying over spilt milk though I suppose, this is what they’re seemingly going with and thus far, they’ve made a good start in that direction. Elsewhere, Trey Baxter continued his own good start, defeating Joe Gacy and advancing in the NXT Breakout Tournament. This was an effective enough formal introduction for both men, an immediate styles clash that allowed both guys to show their own potential.

Combine much of the above with a decent main event and you have a good television show, but there’s a looming sense of uncertainty to the product’s future. Clearly, NXT’s place in this ‘universe’ is changing and that’s fine, but it’s making for a weird few months. The brand’s main male title is attached to a guy that’s beaten almost everyone, yet already finds himself in the RAW midcard. The answer is seemingly Samoa Joe and well, as much as I love the man, that doesn’t feel like much of an answer at all really.

That’s another topic for another day though, as in a vacuum at least, I still enjoyed this latest edition of NXT TV.


It’s been an eventful month or so for IMPACT Wrestling, producing the encouraging Slammiversary and a range of headlines since. Three TV episodes later, there’s been an onslaught of news and notes but yet, you’re the blink of an eye away from missing them all. If you had any doubt after the viewership boom and then immediate bust of Kenny Omega’s presence, this show feels stuck, even if the many promotional partnerships have provided their PPVs with an extra punch. The TV though? Well, there’s a lot of options and unfortunately, too few people are picking IMPACT.

That’s frustrating as when you actually tune in, you’ll generally enjoy the experience. It’s been especially engaging in recent weeks, with fans finally back also, adding an energy that had been absent for well over a year. I apologize if much of the above overlaps with my earlier ROH opening, but I will say, there is an obvious difference here. I thoroughly enjoy Ring of Honor’s weekly television product, but I’m not delusional, it has no real hook to the modern wrestling fan. In fact, it often feels disconnected from the promotion’s main angles and ideas.

It’s dated in that sense, a complete contrast to the increasingly common approach to US television. They rotate things like AEW but in a far more formulaic fashion, all over just one hour too. I love that, but it’s not particularly exciting, especially for those further distanced from the product. By contrast, IMPACT follows a far more familiar formula, built around its main characters every week and developing their central arcs with each outing also. You’ll be caught up almost immediately, you’ll see at least a couple recognisable faces weekly.

Now, I do think that sometimes, IMPACT’s creative lacks a big picture outlook, mostly specializing in giving purpose to potentially purposeless talent. With that being said, that’s a complaint that I’ll often return to as the major PPV cycles reach their conclusion, but it’s not relevant here. Perhaps it’s just the return of fans, but I really think that over the last three weeks, this product has been consistently interesting in a way that’s seldom been the case. Granted, much of that is fueled by these promotional partnerships but for now, that’s a feature, not a flaw.

Jay White is the obvious example of that, an absolute revelation thus far. Everyone already thought highly of White but wow, he’s made a statement in my view. I knew that the raw ingredients were there but his transition to this style of product couldn’t have been smoother. On arrival, he was one of IMPACT’s most compelling characters and frankly, I don’t think that’d be any different elsewhere either. He’s just got the answers at this point, has figured things out and is the kind of top guy that can successfully slot in anywhere.

This week though, White was a mere plot device really, providing the bridge for Chris Bey’s entry to the Bullet Club. Obviously, that’s a great fit for Bey, who can eventually tour Japan as a premier junior heavyweight. Not only that, but it guarantees a certain protection too, which has been absent from Bey’s booking at times. Most of all though, this is a win for Bullet Club, finally adding an exciting fresh face to their ranks. That faction isn’t untalented of course but the line-up itself certainly isn’t exciting. Bey changes that and tellingly, beat Juice Robinson here.

Elsewhere, IMPACT crowned a king and queen last weekend, with Matthew Rehwoldt and Deonna Purrazzo coming out on top at Homecoming. That was an ideal bonus show for your subscribers by the way, just fun pro wrestling that could easily exist in a vacuum, but felt newsworthy enough too. Either way, Purrazzo is headed to the NWA’s Empower show, with Mickie James revealing her opponent as Melina. This is a strong poster and on name value alone, an understandable play but I do question the match quality element as naturally, Melina isn’t what she was physically.

Ideally, this whole saga leads to Mickie James herself working Purrazzo in IMPACT, as the champion still needs intriguing opponents. Then again, Tasha Steelz may have just joined that list, now backed up by Savannah Evans as Fire ‘N Flava becomes a thing of her past. That’s a real shame by the way, as they’d become a legitimately great team but Kiera has been there for some time now, so it does feel like a logical time for her to climb the promotional ladder. Steelz can be a player in IMPACT either way, teaming with Evans or as a singles.

Honestly, Steelz is one of the promotion’s most underrated performers. Fundamentally sound, versatile and armed with real personality, Steelz should flourish if her spotlight increases, which would help the Knockouts Title scene tremendously. Upon thought though, the division’s tag titles may need her more. Speaking of such, IMPACT’s obsession with multi-team tag matches refuses to relent, now booking a triple threat in which Violent By Design and the Rich Swann/Willie Mack tandem challenges The Good Brothers. I just don’t get it, these matches come with such a ceiling, all following that same tired formula.

Speaking of The Good Brothers, Karl Anderson played fall down man here, taking the pin in this week’s 6-man tag main event. That’s fine, as the champions beat Bey and White last week and frankly, the babyfaces needed this win. Namely, Frankie Kazarian needed this win, taking his Elite hunting antics to IMPACT. That was a natural fit and showed how with even the smallest shift, these partnerships can provide momentum. Ideally, Eddie Edwards and Sami Callihan aren’t your two top babyfaces alongside him, but such is IMPACT.

At some point, you’ve got to let things evolve in that sense, catapulting a few of these newer names forward. That day feels as though it’s coming sooner rather than later but for now, IMPACT television is three for three in my view, yet to miss since the return of fans.

Well folks, that concludes this week’s edition of ‘Takes, Takes & More Takes.’ Got a take? Send it over on the Twitter, @JoeHulbert! Be nice though and try to disguise any critiques as compliments. Thanks pals, speak soon!

Lashley’s Redemption, Dynamite’s Debut | Takes, Takes & More Takes #20

With the AEW Dynamite Report Card benched, this series has a new topic to tackle. Now added to the weekly rotation, Dynamite makes its ‘Takes’ debut, completing the build to Revolution. That’s not the only headline either, as on Monday, WWE crowned a new heavyweight champion. Bobby Lashley’s lengthy climb culminated this week while elsewhere, Shane Taylor sought a similar feat, challenging Rush for ROH gold. With a blockbuster edition ahead, there’s no time to waste, so let’s get started.


Speaking of blockbuster editions, that’s exactly where we’re starting. Branded as a “Championship Edition,” this week’s episode of ROH television was the most eventful in some time. Headlined by Shane Taylor’s long overdue shot at Rush, this honestly felt like a reward for those of us paying attention since the promotion’s restart. Within the ROH bubble, this was a major match and one they’d built seamlessly, fuelling Taylor with committed, palpable momentum. That even continued last week, as Shane Taylor Promotions became ROH Six-Man Tag Team champions.

Defeating Mexisquad, Taylor’s team once again looked immense, overcoming a seemingly challenging styles clash to produce something quite enthralling. That’s the real key here too, as while Taylor’s simply successful booking helps, it’s his progressing performance that making things click. That extends beyond the ring too, consistently cutting the product’s strongest promos, presenting himself as a star throughout. Taylor treated this opportunity as though it was the match of his dreams and rightly so, this is a world title shot after all.

That urgency elevated the whole thing and clearly, Rush is more than brilliant enough to fit the bill. Together, Taylor and Rush combined for a brutal, enduring main event that matched expectations. Taylor was always the de facto babyface here but with this execution, that contrast was even more pronounced. Brought to the outside by a fiery Taylor, Rush took advantage, matching his challenger’s aggression and stretching every rule in the book. From there, Taylor was forever fighting uphill, battling away courageously as Rush took control.

It’s not news of course, but Rush really is a fabulous fit in this role. He’s so comfortable as the cocky, entitled antagonist, just embodying arrogance without ever trying too hard. Those efforts are only enhanced by finishes like this one too, as Rush retained his title via Kenny King interference. Stuck between faction and friend, King betrayed Taylor, destroying his supposed hopes for a fair fight. King’s dynamic with Taylor always felt authentic and both men speak with such conviction, which had this ‘turn’ hitting even harder.

That wasn’t this week’s only drama in ROH either, as the aforementioned King teamed with Dragon Lee, becoming Tag Team champions. La Faccion Ingobernable stole one here, using an illegal punch to seal the deal, defeating The Foundation under Pure Rules. The match itself was exciting but honestly, probably needed a little more time to breathe. Nonetheless, this is an interesting plot point within The Foundation’s overall arc, so I’m genuinely interested to see how they rebound. Either way, the finish suggests that this is far from over.

Though the latest episode was unsurprisingly impressive, last week’s may have been even better. Built around two matches that helped the ‘Championship Edition’s appeal, these recent outings have captured the strengths of having a relatively small crew. It forces a connective tissue, a consistency that can be lost when TV is simply a match generator chasing both quantity and quality. In this setting, ROH are having to truly focus on individuals, painting pictures for each name of note. The paths are pronounced, allowing audiences to follow favourites along with ease.

After six months, it’s clear that for now at least, this promotion won’t be completely built around purity. The goal here is still variety, which is understandable but within that wrestling cliche, there’s nuance to this. An on-screen range is fine, but it all needs to fit. The pieces can be different, but they have to belong in the universe they’re creating, as if done correctly, that can be ROH’s greatest strength. These last two weeks were very encouraging in that regard, maintaining cohesion while not leaning on that one particularly pure style.

If this recent standard can be delivered consistently, Ring of Honor will be positioned well once ‘normality’ returns. The hype isn’t there, the buzz non-existent but steadily, they are making things matter, both talent as well as wins and losses themselves. Fittingly, they are laying the foundations for something substantial, it’s just a matter of sticking with it.


At this point, what is there left to say about RAW? It’s critically panned, a complete punchline and yet, I can only be positive after this week’s conclusion. For almost a year now, Bobby Lashley has been protected, the dominant centrepiece of The Hurt Business. He’s been treated like an attraction, simply slaughtering foes, finally separated from the growing pack of bell-to-bell thrillers. Lashley can do that but he doesn’t need to and now armed with MVP’s microphone skills, this presentation truly clicked some time ago.

That chapter culminated on RAW, as Lashley became WWE Champion, squashing The Miz in Monday’s main event. The execution wasn’t really to my taste, it felt slightly prelim and took away the drama for me personally. Nonetheless, they maintained their audience and ticked the necessary box anyway, ending the episode with Lashley as champion. This is the likely peak of a pretty special tale in truth, a career revival of four men, a complete faction making a united comeback. MVP is the key ingredient of course, the factor that shifted everything.

He’s a simply brilliant television character, able to belong in even the most absurd settings. Now more than ever, the roster struggles mightily with WWE’s infamous dialogue, but MVP is always unmoved, completely assured. Just as it did in TNA, that’s quite visibly rubbed off on Lashley, who seems more at ease than ever, capturing the confidence that was rich in his prior peaks. Both struggling in their own way just a year ago, Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin are now the RAW Tag Team champions which granted, doesn’t mean what it should.

Honestly though, I refuse to get lost in the details here. Again, my response was somewhat muted by their extension of the whole thing but frankly, I don’t care. In the same way, the bumps in The Hurt Business’ road aren’t worth sweating right now either, as under the most challenging circumstances, they are creating something seriously special. I’ve believed for some time that this act would be remembered fondly, the kind of thing that the tastemakers of 2040 would admire with a stunned “why wasn’t this bigger?” admiration.

That’s a cool enough legacy anyway but Monday ensured otherwise, elevating the whole faction immediately. They are now etched in history, the group that catapulted Lashley to such a significant feat. They are forever tied to Lashley’s career high, finally freeing him from the ‘flop’ branding that so unfairly followed his name. More than that though, they are a simply wonderful unit, as potentially iconic as anything in the industry right now. The Hurt Business are a beautiful blend of talent and chemistry, all with the fairy-tale narrative to match.

Speaking of such, that brings us to what’s next. It seems awful likely that Lashley is a mere transition towards McIntyre’s own fairy-tale triumph, the title win that was stolen from his last year. Before Monday, that was slightly less clear, with McIntyre and Sheamus’ conflict remaining unsettled. RAW certainly solved that though, as those two met in an unannounced match of the year contender, going back and forth for a PPV main event length. Great match but why? McIntyre must be moving on, plain and simple.

To be clear, there’s something to be said for this route. Personally, I find it to be rather uninspiring but if McIntyre is their choice, another WrestleMania win is clearly advisable. Repeated success cements a top talent’s status and again, McIntyre’s in-ring performance certainly warrants such faith. If Lashley vs. McIntyre is indeed the endgame though, I’m intrigued as to what that means for Fastlane, a show that already feels certain to lack importance. Perhaps it’s a foregone conclusion of a number one contender’s match, maybe even a triple threat with Miz.

Finally, I do have one last thing to cover but full disclosure: this will completely erase my prior positivity. With Asuka unable to appear on this week’s RAW, Charlotte had a live microphone, standing alone after last week’s impressive showing opposite her father. ‘The Queen’ said that when she returned, she didn’t want to be in the title scene but now, she does. That’s not a direct quote but I promise, it’s closer than it should be, just complete nonsense when a character seemed positioned for actual progress.

Instead, they appear set to simply cut out the middleman, getting to the match they want regardless of route. After being attacked by Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler, Flair beat the latter in mere minutes, gaining ‘momentum’ before WrestleMania. I’d like to think that even WWE has enough self-awareness to find another way but frankly, that’d probably be naïve. This was a writer’s response or even acknowledgment of the common criticisms, but there will be no attempt to fix them. At this point though, who could possible care?

Nonetheless, this Monday was about Bobby Lashley and The Hurt Business. I’ll willingly keep it that way, cherishing this moment while I can.


Producing one of the quirkiest go-home shows in recent memory, AEW certainly wasn’t following a traditional playbook this week. Building towards Sunday’s Revolution, AEW had to maximise a Dynamite built around Shaquille O’Neal, even opening with the NBA icon. It must be said though, Shaq’s match was a hit, exceeding my admittedly low expectations with ease. I assumed that O’Neal’s temperament would be typically silly, making fun of the whole thing while inevitably making a fool of himself.

Instead, he actually seemed pretty switched on, even taking a quite spectacular table bump. Cody was always the obvious pro for that position but really, this match was destined to be about Jade Cargill. It would’ve been a complete miss to make Jade an afterthought here, as she clearly has star potential and thankfully, they captured that rather well. Credit to Red Velvet of course, who showed admirable poise in guiding Cargill. This match was a genuine spectacle, which is much more than I initially anticipated.

I suppose that in many ways, Shaq was cemented as the episode’s central talking point, regardless of the rest. Even still, the lack of Omega – Moxley build was surprising, leaving them to a fleeting vignette on the go-home show. That was bold but in truth, the pieces are already in place and speaking of spectacles, their PPV bout seems certain to be that. All Elite Wrestling is the ultimate example of that aforementioned wrestling cliché, offering a buffet reminiscent of WCW Nitro’s peak.

This week’s Dynamite extended that to its fullest, even hosting a Tully Blanchard match. Sunday won’t be much different either, instead featuring Sting in the PPV’s co-main event, standing by Darby Allin in a ‘street fight.’ Three months removed from his promotional debut, the initial adoration for Sting has naturally declined. This match’s build has turned a corner as of late though and with a generous presentation here, Sting can regain any goodwill that Dynamite’s repetition has lost. Either way, it needs to deliver as otherwise, what’s next for Sting?

Speaking of such, Hikaru Shida’s latest title defence has a similar hurdle to leap. Taking on Ryo Mizunami, this title bout has to match the standard that those impressive tournament tilts set. Mizunami was a surprising choice for tournament conqueror but she hasn’t missed yet and stylistically, this looks like a natural fit. I do think that by hook or by crook, this belt needs an increased presence on television, which will always lead me in Britt Baker’s direction. For now though, a PPV classic could certainly build on the women’s division’s recent efforts.

Elsewhere, the tag ranks reach a crossroads of sorts, as The Young Bucks defend their titles against Chris Jericho and MJF. I personally expect a title change here, which is somewhat bizarre considering the division at hand. In the grand scheme of things though, it seems borderline logical, allowing Santana and Ortiz to chase the champions while in non-title action, the old Bullet Club finally explodes. An all-champion affair always seemed unlikely to me and politically, The Good Brothers seem like necessary victors, meaning that Matt and Nick need to drop the belts anyway.

Those four matches are the heavy hitters here but after main eventing on Wednesday, Hangman Page and Matt Hardy deserve a mention also. Page is probably the next AEW Champion and to me, this seems like a solid enough route to PPV victory for him. With that being said, I could do without Hardy on this stage, especially after Sunday. Hardy has been entertaining enough in this programme but it’s time to move on afterwards, utilising Hardy as the working manager that he’s already thrived as alongside Private Party.

Bizarrely, almost all of the above could be rendered irrelevant. Hyping a major signing, AEW has opted to live dangerously, cornering themselves in a play that positions them precariously. If you’re reading this, you’re aware of the rumours. To me, the realistic trio is Christian, Kurt Angle and Mick Foley. Anyone above that is either locked up or frankly, beyond being introduced by Paul Wight. Out of those, I’d least like to see Angle. Though a legend, Angle is physically decimated and sadly, increasingly limited as a personality too.

Foley fits a similar bill but could at least be entertaining in the right setting. The question is, does AEW need such a thing? I’d argue they don’t. Christian is the option that I’m personally attached too. While not exactly blockbuster, Christian is one of the industry’s most revered modern minds, a truly perfect hands-on coach. He’s also a familiar face, reaching the Royal Rumble final four only weeks ago and yet, Christian still doesn’t feel above working consistently. One of the great TV match men, Christian could be a tremendous addition if active.

I’d love to see Christian as the unexpected fourth man for FTR’s fledgling faction, constantly working with AEW’s young babyface stars. If it’s indeed Christian, the hype will probably prove divisive but before long, I’d very much expect him to prove his worth. First though, they’ll need to hope that their reveal at least somewhat hits, regardless of who the name is. That’ll be key to the reaction Revolution garners, even if the matches themselves seem likely to deliver.

Well folks, that concludes this week’s edition of ‘Takes, Takes & More Takes.’ Got a take? Send it over on the Twitter, @JoeHulbert! Be nice though and try to disguise any critiques as compliments. Thanks pals, speak soon!

Royal Rumble Week, Shane Taylor Promotions Prospers | Takes, Takes & More Takes #15

One of the wrestling calendar’s most exciting weeks, WWE’s Royal Rumble event is almost here. The hype doesn’t need much assistance either, as fans continue to ponder the list of candidates for Sunday’s two signature matches. RAW and SmackDown still have a role to play though, building some momentum and perhaps, even hinting at the finishes that await. Elsewhere, ROH looks to kick off their 2021 in style, continuing on the path that led them to an excellent Final Battle PPV.


After last week’s controversial closing segment, Monday Night RAW refused to relent, boldly running it back. Alexa Bliss and Asuka were the main event once more, with the RAW Women’s Title now hanging in the balance. If you found their prior bout to be far-fetched, this will have left you dizzied, only featuring more “supernatural” elements. It was nothing if not noteworthy though and for better or worse, the insanity is hard to ignore. I actually thought it was quite effective in the end, building genuine drama before Orton finally floored Bliss with the RKO.

These matches will be divisive because they symbolise a genre that simply can’t suit any other setting. It isn’t purely cinematic as the ring gives a sense of familiarity until the filmmaking begins, causing opinions to explode. I understand that, as this stuff has never really been my thing but personally, I find the demands for “realism” to be puzzling. I’d love realism but I’d need a time machine to expect such a thing in pro wrestling, let alone WWE in particular. Look, it’s stretching things even further perhaps, but this is a unique scenario, so that’s not surprising either.

Now, let’s ponder what all of this means. If Bliss’ usage will now once again revolve around Orton, this last two weeks were short-sighted to say the least. She’s basically beaten Asuka twice, so you’ve damaged your champion in a direction that wasn’t even necessary. That blow would be lessened if Asuka is at least “changed” by their matches, but even that’s not ideal. On the other hand, this could’ve just delayed the inevitable, as many still expect Bliss to win Sunday’s Royal Rumble match. Personally, I doubt that.

To me at least, this isn’t the kind of angle that precedes a Rumble win, as I wouldn’t be surprised if the RKO even sparks an absence of sorts for Alexa. To me, this was about giving Wyatt a reason to return, which I’d imagine will come in the midst of the men’s Rumble match. That doesn’t mean Bliss won’t eventually be factored in of course, potentially re-entering the title scene closer to WrestleMania. Right now, I’d expect Bliss to be opposite Asuka and Charlotte Flair in the event’s title tilt, developing a divide between them.

It feels absurd to leave Asuka out of that match, which in fairness, has never stopped them before. Even still, this persona for Bliss isn’t one made for in-ring thrills, especially opposite Flair so in a multi-woman scenario, those limitations could be hidden. As for Wyatt, I’d expect him and Orton to continue their controversial conflict until WrestleMania, eventually clashing in a sequel to last year’s Firefly Funhouse match. That’s logical enough in my view, because people loved the original and with Cena covered, Orton’s a natural second chapter.

The above paragraphs tell a tale in themselves honestly as once again, there isn’t much else to tackle. RAW is a painfully dry programme, lacking any spark of personality, just meandering along without any sense of development or progression. If Bliss’ shenanigans are polarising, the rest pursues apathy on its best days, with not even Goldberg sparking much debate anymore. Fans still fear a title change but in truth, there isn’t much passion to the whole thing, it’s just another Goldberg match. There’s no hook, simply enjoy the finisher-fest.

Then again, there was one other talking point, as Edge’s return garnered rare consensus acclaim. Announcing his Royal Rumble entry in a powerful promo, Edge swiftly had viewers re-thinking their latest fantasy booking plans. Edge feels like a feasible Rumble winner, though I personally sense that his hopes of reclaiming world title gold will have to wait. Wyatt programme aside, Orton could still be headed Edge’s way at WrestleMania, but I’d currently predict AJ Styles. In recent weeks, Styles has been halting Royal Rumble dreams and eliminating Edge would be an exclamation mark for that trend.

RAW’s ‘Road to WrestleMania’ feels completely unclear and depending on your perspective, that could be praise or criticism. It’s certainly unpredictable, which I accept the appeal of but even still, I can’t dismiss my concerns that in truth, those plans still aren’t set. If so, a busy few months are ahead because frankly, anything is possible.


Now months removed from the Pure Title tournament’s conclusion, Ring of Honor continue to regain my faith. Though impressive, it wasn’t difficult to produce those initial bouts, embracing a format and colouring within the lines afterwards. It was after Jonathan Gresham’s almost inevitable title win that the true challenge began though, trying to incorporate that style within the overall product. That sounded like a tough task to me, but they’ve actually managed it with relative ease, adding variety without harming the core presentation of purity.

The Foundation are helpful in that regard, allowing the narrative a constant outlet on ROH TV. You can always feature one of those four performers, allowing things to take shape without overexposing the act. it’s a simple story that extends beyond each episode’s ups and downs, especially when contrasted as it was this week. Gresham, Jay Lethal and Tracy Williams represented the faction, taking on Shane Taylor Promotions in a six-man main event. On paper, that match has obvious physical potential but in one promo, Taylor painted a different picture.

He drew a line between his unit and The Foundation, taking a firm stance opposite their supposed intentions of purifying the promotion. Taylor is one of my favourite characters in wrestling, breaking away from the genre’s often simplistic archetypes but avoiding a bland shade of grey. This isn’t a persona that’s comfortable with your indifference, as he actually has a far stronger identity than the industry norm. It’s a wonderful fit anywhere but especially in ROH, as Taylor is allowed to take his own path, speaking his own truth.

Alongside Taylor are Kaun and Moses, the Soldiers of Savagery. Their ceiling goes without saying, pairing an imposing physical presence with impressive athletic range. The placement with Taylor only accelerates their progress too, giving them a presence beyond the tag team ranks. Taylor’s promo time makes them increasingly familiar faces too, while also making matches like this week’s headliner possible. The match itself delivered and then some, producing excitement but perhaps even more importantly than that, further accentuating the contrast between both teams.

Taylor and co refused to conform, battering the purists with power, and forcing them into an uncharacteristically physical affair. That’s a simple story but the execution really captured it deftly and best of all, the finish of choice made the whole thing rather emphatic too. Taylor pinned Lethal clean in the middle, finding comfort in the chaos that his team had created. It was perfect for that particular narrative while also achieving two things: continuing Taylor’s collection of credibility and advancing the quiet trend of Lethal’s struggles. Perfection.

As is probably obvious by now, that match is the standout for me but in their first two “proper” episodes of 2021, ROH has yet to miss. We’ve had a Pure Rules bout on both shows, maintaining the critically acclaimed presentation of recent months. Those matches are consistently engaging, really allowing Josh Woods to flourish in particular. I’m thankful that Flip Gordon will be moving on however, as even after the spectacular match with Gresham, he never felt truly at home in that division. In fairness, the on-screen story matched that perception.

These latest tapings certainly weren’t hurt by the presence of Dragon Lee either, bringing the Television Title back to ROH television. Defending his belt against Rey Horus, Lee’s in-ring excellence was a welcome addition, bringing the same spark that was so palpable at Final Battle. The current ROH roster isn’t without talent but Dragon Lee is something different, truly one of the world’s absolute best. Horus was a worthy foe, but Lee is simply spectacular and the more often he defends his title, the better this product will be.

In terms of schedule and structure, there’s still a sense of uncertainty to this promotion. With that being said, if you’re willing to trust them with an hour of your week, I doubt that you’ll be disappointed. Their current format won’t be for everyone but if it’s to your taste, you’ll swiftly be immersed. There’s a commitment to the whole thing and a refreshing attention to detail, which only increases my personal investment. ROH is a distance away from the glory days, but they are trending in the right direction and for now, that’s a triumph worth acknowledging.


Tasked with providing that familiar visual of every Royal Rumble build, SmackDown got a little creative. Concluding their programme with three connected matches, the blue brand positioned Michael Cole perfectly for his “if you think this is crazy, imagine Sunday” belter. It was entertaining enough, even if slightly irritating and in the case of halting Bryan vs. Styles, almost infuriating. These segments are what they are however and if nothing else, this at least felt genuinely chaotic, featuring some good work along the way.

As it has been for months now though, SmackDown is about Roman Reigns, especially throughout his conflict with Kevin Owens. This week, those two put the final touches on their sublime programme, capturing this perfect contrast once more. Reigns’ spite was delivered in a cold and manipulative fashion, goading Owens until the challenger exploded with emotion. It’s all so simple but most wrestling highlights are, empowering the performers to shine. It’s a basic back and forth talking segment, talent can do the rest and in fairness, decent dialogue doesn’t hurt either.

I remain intrigued by the thought that Owens could finally conquer Reigns at WrestleMania, though I accept that’s unlikely. This is a throwback chase nonetheless and an uplifting conclusion to that journey would be refreshing. It’s hard to find fresh superlatives for both men at this juncture, as they continue to make their case for the industry’s finest overall performer. Beyond that, this is the kind of rivalry that should be remembered for years to come, combining in-ring drama with storytelling substance. It’s remarkable, regardless of how many chapters remain.

Elsewhere, SmackDown featured a match that perhaps naively, I was beginning to expect for WrestleMania. In fairness, this outing doesn’t erase that possibility, but Sunday might. Either way, Bayley and Bianca Belair had a decent bout, even if nothing above the general TV standard. This felt more like a bridge to something bigger, as they clearly left some things on the table here. Even still, I enjoyed their chemistry and love Bayley as an opponent for Belair, as her understanding of structure really paces Bianca well.

Belair has wonderful instincts in terms of selling, which is a dynamic match for her spectacular offence. The presence and overall package go without saying of course, making Belair a natural candidate for Sunday’s Rumble match. As you’d expect, there is still a palpable roughness around Belair’s in-ring edges, which prevents things from transitioning as smoothly as they one day will. Bayley negates that rather well though, working with a focus that really neatly channels Belair’s potential. These two women could do better and ideally, they’ll get a chance to also.

The Royal Rumble could allow that progression too, with one eliminating the other to elevate their programme. That’s a textbook play, especially fitting within Bayley’s continued resentment towards Belair. That doesn’t necessarily have to lead them towards WrestleMania either, but it would at least ensure another match. Personally, I’d continue down this current path as I think that Bayley can make Belair better and in this particular case, there’s no rush. Belair is a can’t miss star, let’s make sure that she’s as ready as possible.

Finally, SmackDown’s Royal Rumble build added one last piece to the story between Sasha Banks and Carmella. Well, they almost did anyway, with Banks appearing in a short segment opposite Reginald. Look, filler feuds are nothing new and if this ended a month ago, it actually would’ve been quite effective. Unfortunately, this roster inexplicably lacks the depth to do that comfortably, so this was extended beyond its reach. There’s no substance to this conflict and with only so many notes to hit, the aforementioned Reginald has become a necessity.

I’m sure the match itself will be solid enough though, as Banks’ sheer effort refuses to accept anything less. Overall, this wasn’t the strongest episode of SmackDown, but it ticked the most important box, completing the Reigns – Owens build in style. The rest, well its mostly mindless silliness, but there’s some good wrestling hidden in there if you squint.

Well folks, that concludes this week’s edition of ‘Takes, Takes & More Takes.’ Got a take? Send it over on the Twitter, @JoeHulbert! Be nice though and try to disguise any critiques as compliments. Thanks pals, speak soon!

Fight Owens Fight, Setting The Foundation | Takes, Takes & More Takes #8

With Survivor Series behind us, we have a unique week of takes ahead. Looking to build upon an enjoyable PPV, WWE produced mostly steady results, but steady doesn’t produce much content. With that in mind, RAW and NXT will be sitting the bench in this edition, as I head to the de facto IMPACT Zone as well as the…Honor Home. it’s been a few weeks since we checked in on either, so let’s remedy that today while also tackling SmackDown as usual.


Three weeks ago, I covered ROH’s critically acclaimed Pure Title tournament, as well as the decision to crown Jonathan Gresham champion. As I said then though, this next step was the real test, a challenge of building upon those foundations. Thus far, I’d say that it’s been a mixed bag. Usually, that wouldn’t be an issue, especially under these circumstances but considering the landscape, it seems unlikely that these most recent efforts will be enough. With that being said, we’ll work through the pros and cons in the order that they were presented to us.

Firstly, The Foundation is a great start to life outside of the tournament format, neatly continuing along Gresham’s journey. I think that it’s important to make ROH’s stylistic evolution an on-screen factor as frankly, pretending that the promotion hasn’t changed would be nonsensical. I’d be content if that were simply a commentary talking point, but using it to motivate a central faction is even better. This general angle and direction feels like an ideal centrepiece in terms of programming. It’s something that can provide an overarching concept, one that ROH can lean on as they battle for relevance.

Elsewhere, credit to Brian Johnson for standing out almost immediately in his pre-match promo. I haven’t been watching consistently for some time, but Johnson established his personality right away, swiftly separating himself from the pack. His match with Dak Draper was rather creative too, standing alone structurally, even as the Pure Rules match that had to follow the aforementioned tournament. Draper certainly seems to have the raw ingredients for a role of prominence, but he didn’t make much of an impression beyond that. Quite the opposite to Johnson in fact which to be fair, was effectively the story they told.

Brody King is a talent that I’m much more certain of, feeling like an obvious option for elevation. That seems already in motion too, with King defeating Dalton Castle in a win that creatively, felt like clear statement of intent. Speaking of such, Shane Taylor seems on a similar trajectory, defeating Kenny King in the following week’s main event. Now that things are back to square one in some ways, it really feels as though ROH is cementing their new, adjusted depth chart. They are getting the key talent on track and hopefully have the plans to follow up too.

Taylor is an exciting option for them and in a world of technical brilliance, his match with King was a reminder of wrestling’s simplicity. With their pre-match promos, they told a compelling tale, explaining their impressively developed link to one another. They furthered that neatly once the bell rang too, as Taylor was almost in a conflict with his own psyche. Physically, there was a clear gulf, which they managed to capture with just a single strike, as Taylor’s right hand became a key plot point on sheer execution.

King sold it perfectly too and in this silent, polished setting, it gave this match a refreshing sense of danger. It reminded me of a boxer that had been rocked early, constantly chasing his own recovery afterwards. Caprice nailed that element for me, enhancing the whole match with an almost emotional call on commentary. Wasn’t unfamiliar with Taylor before this but now understand his recent singles usage, hopefully he continues on this path. With that in mind, it’s worth mentioning The Briscoes, who have now been continuing on this path for well over a decade.

For a range of reasons, Jay and Mark feel like a lost act at times. ROH lacks relevance and they are part of the furniture, so their relevance rises and falls accordingly. With that being said, they remain a terrific tag team and their most recent opposition intrigues me too: the raw but exciting Sons of Savagery. Beyond that, The Briscoes are currently in a programme with EC3, with Jay specifically ‘battling’ the former TNA Champion this week. I’m really rooting for EC3 but each time I see him, my interest dwindles.

He clearly has an idea or perhaps even a plan but it’s all so artificial and forced. There was a solid story hidden within this too, as EC3 compared his own career choices to Briscoe’s. That’s completely lost though, as the central narrative is intentionally vague and not in an intriguing way either. You’re left too exhausted to even search for his point, which is perhaps his purpose but in ROH especially, it feels almost unnecessary. He’s a direct contrast to their potentially pure product but not as subtle opposition and instead, as a frustrating outlier.

Immediately after EC3’s match with Briscoe though, LSG and Jay Lethal steadied the ship, producing an enthralling Pure Rules match. This one started steadily but their story kept me hooked, with LSG desperate to prove that he belongs opposite a man he once watched from afar. Again, simple stuff that’s easy to follow, getting just enough of your interest to make the in-ring action connect. The closing portion of this match was immense too, as LSG chased a finish before losing by legitimately debatable decision. The format enhanced this one, using the clock for drama as an upset loomed.

Finally, Mike Bennett is back, returning to reunite The Kingdom. Saving Matt Taven, Bennett didn’t visually scream star but I’m happy for him nonetheless and am hopeful that he can thrive after a tough few years. Bennett isn’t untalented and as ROH looks to reignite its identity, I’m encouraged by his ability to adjust when on WWE’s 205 Live. We’ll see I suppose as at this juncture, EC3 and Miro have me more cautious than ever when it comes to post-WWE stints.


It’s been some time since I covered IMPACT Wrestling, last checking in prior to their disappointing Bound for Glory PPV. Unfair as this may read, that show was initially a final straw of sorts for me, a confirmation of my concerns. There’s a dark sense to even IMPACT’s most optimistic moments, a looming certainty that things are headed for a turn. Bound for Glory was a case of that in my view, failing to meet the expectations and exposing some of this promotion’s remaining limitations. Since then though, I actually think they’ve taken a step forward.

Firstly, scheduling allowed them to quickly rebound, having a far stronger outing at Turning Point. That event hosted two title changes, including the conclusion of The Good Brothers’ initial chase. I enjoyed their match with The North, as well as the rather versatile programming before and after. Anderson – Alexander was the solid, sound affair you’d expect and there’s been unsurprising comedy scattered throughout too, leaning on Page’s range. It seems increasingly likely that Page is headed elsewhere which would be a well-deserved move but even still, it’s a shame that The North’s days appear numbered.

Either way, I remain impressed by IMPACT’s emphasis of Gallows and Anderson, as they still feel a cut above in terms of star power. Whether that’s true or not, well those aren’t my numbers to tackle but within that show, they do stand out in my view. Speaking of standing out, my appreciation for Deonna Purrazzo only continues to increase. To me, her 2020 is a necessary reminder of what ideally, wrestling can and should be. Purrazzo was trusted by the promotion and pushed accordingly, given the room to grow into this role.

She’s since done that and then some, finding a presence that was absent just months ago. She projects like an absolute star, perfecting her persona with each and every appearance. That’s incredibly impressive as is but it’s even more encouraging considering that once the bell rings, Purrazzo has always been at home. She’s been terrific since debuting in IMPACT and Su Yung deserves credit too. Slotting into the top programme seamlessly, Su continues to produce some of the industry’s more captivating character work. The Susie – Su split is stark and her committed performance commands respect.

Those two aren’t alone either, as this women’s division continues to grow. The Knockouts Tag Title tournament seems promising enough also, I’m just hoping that they construct some fitting matches along the way. It’s not easy in IMPACT’s setting but for all the character range and exposure in this division, the final product remains a work in progress at times. Ideally, that’ll change as this tournament develops. At the top especially, the talent is certainly there though, so I cautiously share the general optimism. They’ve earned that in fairness, leaping a far higher hurdle this week.

I wasn’t even slightly interested in the idea of a Wrestler’s Court segment but left the whole thing shocked by my own enjoyment. From what I can gather, it’s been somewhat polarising but much to my surprise, I found this genuinely entertaining. IMPACT really is a variety show, so much so that it’s effectively become their identity through sheer, unapologetic enthusiasm. They throw themselves into every possibility and if you watch long enough, I’m sure that you’ll find something to your taste. Personally, I certainly have and sense that’ll only increase with the addition of Joe Doering.

A throwback in the truest sense, Doering is a criminally underrated performer that very much deserves whatever exposure IMPACT still allows. This kind of acquisition is yet another feather in Callis and co’s cap, just smart moves that seemingly arise out of nowhere. My one genuine stumbling block is that I’m mostly unenthused by Swann’s direction since becoming champion. That’s not a reflection of him though and I’m confident that a change in opposition could quickly alter that.


This week’s SmackDown was the Kevin Owens Show, as the former Universal Champion finally found himself a direction, picking a fight with Roman Reigns. There have been fleeting conflicts along the way, but you could argue that this is positioned to be Owens’ first proper programme since WrestleMania. That’s an objective failure on WWE’s part, allowing an intriguing character to wander aimlessly. Owens has immense babyface potential, actually transitioning from his past with a palpable motivation in mind. That’s not been capitalised on creatively, but this feels like the perfect feud to change that.

Owens may have gone months without anything to sink his teeth into but that’ll be quickly forgotten if this matches my expectations. On the babyface side, there’s no higher position than the one pursuing Reigns and Owens is more than capable of making this role his own. He’s an ideal foe for Reigns in truth, a natural contrast in every which way. In addition, Owens’ intensity doesn’t prevent him from being a believable underdog. Personally, I felt that was an issue at times against the more picturesque McIntyre but in fairness, he and Reigns still certainly delivered in the end.

Either way, it’s refreshing to see Owens back in the spotlight and though this was once the norm, I doubt that any viewer will be taking it for granted anymore. Honestly, perspective is always important while covering these shows as sometimes, SmackDown will throw Daniel Bryan vs. Sami Zayn your way as a throwaway first hour bout. That can’t be taken for granted, even if’s a little shrouded in critiques at times. That being said, I have no complaints here, thoroughly enjoying the match and falling more in love with Zayn’s villainous persona too.

Bayley isn’t far behind him either, continuing to convince me that this deluded direction is the way to go. With the title or without, Bianca Belair was always a natural programme for Bayley after Banks and thankfully, that now appears to be underway. This one is intriguing in terms of presentation, as it’ll likely set the stage for wherever the SmackDown Women’s Title winds up at WrestleMania. Belair vs. Banks feels like the obvious endgame but in many ways, I sense that on both sides, this feud will shape that possibility.

This is certainly an ideal test of Belair’s current standing, a clear insight into how ready she is to lead a brand’s division. Everyone agrees that Belair is a star in the making but opposite Bayley, she’ll have an ideal opportunity to prove that she already belongs on top of the card. In the same way, Bayley’s own efforts could again render her undeniable, the key cog in a triple threat match or perhaps, they’ll even revisit the rivalry with Banks. These decisions will all be made months down the line of course, but it certainly feels as though this programme could provide some clues.

By contrast, Carmella’s chase of Sasha Banks is far less exciting, even with an admittedly creative segment this week. This direction continues to feel like a misstep to me, conceding defeat on Banks’ first ‘filler’ challenger right away. A dip in quality was inevitable after Banks moved on from Bayley but surely there’s a middle ground to be found? Instead, they’re rapidly taking the shine off all the work they just did. That’s probably hyperbolic but considering that Banks feels prepared to lead the whole promotion, this complete subplot of a title programme isn’t cutting it.

That wasn’t the only miss either, as Buddy Murphy stepped out of one shadow into three others. This was an absolute calamity, as the Mysterio family cheated at every turn, allowing Murphy to defeat King Corbin. It’d be silly so suggest that anyone sympathised with Corbin but even still, what was achieved with this? The Aalyah pairing already feels challenging enough but as an entire act, this ‘faction’ is a sure way to damage every asset involved. Murphy is a wonderful in-ring performer but if he’s going to be truly featured, he’ll need some assistance creatively. In my view, he’s getting the complete opposite thus far.

Overall though, this was a decent SmackDown that managed to stand steadily enough on Owens’ shoulders. That extends to everyone within that programme in fairness, as this show was bookended with relative quality. Everything in-between was less impressive but the Murphy mess aside, it was mostly inoffensive. SmackDown still feels as though it’s seeking a rhythm after the draft though as while this show is solid, it often falls short of my admittedly lofty expectations. Hopefully, that’ll change in the coming weeks, as this is a special group of talent.

Well folks, that concludes this week’s edition of ‘Takes, Takes & More Takes.’ Got a take? Send it over on the Twitter, @JoeHulbert! Be nice though and try to disguise any critiques as compliments. Thanks pals, speak soon!

Honor is Real, Banks Retains! | Takes, Takes & More Takes #5

It’s Full Gear week in the wrestling world and for this series, that means absolutely nothing. With the leading story off our board though, I’ve decided that it would be a good time to branch out. Monday Night RAW was an inoffensive, but completely uninteresting show this week so for the first time, the former flagship is also unavailable. Instead, I’ll be focusing on NXT UK in its place, with ROH taking the free spot in-between. Let’s get to it folks, takes await!


Okay look, I know that the title above me says ‘NXT UK’ but well, that’s a stretch. Firstly, I’m a week late on this and in addition, I will not be covering any full episode of this show. Incredibly, I actually intended to also, it just proved to be a mission too tough for completion at this time. Nonetheless, I do want to cover Walter’s latest title defence, as this match with Ilja Dragunov has even managed to steal a few headlines. Considering the circumstances, that’s quite a feat.

As you’ve probably heard by now, this match is terrific. It’s brutal, violent and at times, even uncomfortable to watch. Enhanced by the silence of its setting, every strike proves shuddering here. That becomes the match’s defining trait, producing a savage final product that’s staggering under the WWE umbrella. I’ve always found Walter to be a rather fascinating piece of the modern wrestling landscape, exploring his body of work in relative depth a few years back. Unfortunately, I often found myself more enamoured with the idea of Walter rather than the execution itself.

Walter is a textbook headline heel, the dominant mountain top halting every hero in his path. That’s a simple story, extending to each and every match with ease. For me though, I found that at times, Walter would be too comfortable as the mere base, too content as the constant. Walter certainly works as the unmoved destroyer but without striving to be anything more than that, limitations quickly emerge. That can be solved though, it simply relies on Walter’s opponent filling in the gaps.

Thankfully, Dragunov did exactly that here, providing the passion and emotion that this match required. His energy was infectious too, inspiring Walter to increase his intensity immediately. Now immersed in the heat of battle, Walter was magnificent, just battering Dragunov and leading the match with sheer physicality. Walter’s best work comes when he’s aggressive and he’s certainly that here, seldom taking a single step back. He’s completely unrelenting, callously targeting his challenger’s neck. That work is only elevated by Dragunov, with absolute agony etched upon his face.

He’s immense throughout, providing all the ingredients that can be lacking during extended Walter destructions like his one. In fairness, Walter does some masterful selling himself, teetering back and forth while portraying desperation during Dragunov’s offensive spurts.  The size difference makes for a natural story and their chemistry maximises it, with Dragunov’s courageous efforts effectively forcing an investment. That’s the one element that left me disheartened in truth, as my lack of initial interest probably capped this quite a bit.

I still loved the match, just can only imagine how impactful it would’ve been if I was watching with fresh, unaffected eyes. Instead, I was the cynical viewer that had already read every rave review, entering with full awareness of the finish. My general contempt for the NXT UK brand doesn’t help either but this was a very worthwhile watch regardless, as your own investment will simply provide icing. Just a brilliant match, one of 2020’s absolute best.


Though the lack of reaction could convince you otherwise, Ring of Honor may have just concluded a pivotal chapter of their famed history. After handling COVID-19 with professionalism and poise, ROH returned in grand fashion, producing a polished Pure Title tournament. This appears to have provided more than just a few good weeks of television too, signifying something greater. In this tournament, ROH recaptured their identity, unlocking a path to potential success moving forward. Success is relative of course, but it certainly feels as though there’s a lesson to be learnt here.

Wrestling is currently loaded with accessible variety shows, and ROH are frozen in place with that same approach. In truth, that’s likely the case regardless, as this promotion has spent recent years floundering in a bizarre middle ground. They are too small to be big, too big to be small. With this style though, they have a niche that they can commit too, a presentation to take pride in. As a logical, more sports-centric product, ROH can host a genre that they can reasonably claim to be the masters of.  

Jonathan Gresham is a big part of that, the leading force in fact. Gresham is one of the world’s best wrestlers and a specialist at that, an elite technician that this brand could be built upon. As an in-ring performer, Gresham can compete with anyone, giving ROH a feasible centrepiece to match their decorated past. Considering that as well as the on-screen story being told, Gresham was always the obvious choice for Pure Champion. Thankfully, ROH didn’t complicate that matter either, potentially marking a new era with Gresham as titleholder.

In this particular tournament though, Gresham certainly wasn’t the only standout. His final opponent was ‘Hot Sauce’ Tracy Williams, a wrestler that somehow, I’ve completely missed before this. Williams left me ashamed to admit that in this tournament also, producing some of the smartest showings of the whole bracket. There was an apparent attention to detail in his work, as Williams packed his matches with passion and logic throughout. Williams can really sell too, finding a balance between emoting and complimenting the tournament’s overall tone.

Fred Yehi and Jay Lethal were probably the next strongest names for me but frankly, the entire line-up adjusted admirably. I found the approach to be refreshing in general, with the matches building steadily, while avoiding the more sudden, spectacular closing stretches that we’ve come to expect. The finishes usually utilised the layers established throughout, rewarding your attention to detail along the way. It’s never been easier to find exciting in-ring action, but this is a specific style within that, one that could provide a long-term return to form for ROH.

The issue is exactly that though, as ROH now takes its more uncertain next step. Without the tournament structure as confinement, can this promotion stay out of their own way? Can they commit to this product or within weeks, will the return of variety only undercut this tournament’s tone? In fairness, the actual popularity of this tournament is unclear, as for all its critical acclaim, the end results still failed to perforate the wider wrestling chatter. I’d debate that though, as this rebuild can only be so swift.

In truth, immense damage has been done in terms of perception and if nothing else, ROH’s core audience enjoyed this tournament. At the very least, it was encouraging, a neat homage to better days. Ideally, it’ll kickstart another impactful era for the ROH brand but the lack of faith is certainly understandable. As 2020 nears its end, this roster could be headed towards yet another internal collapse but if there’s any route back to the audience’s hearts, this tournament found it.


If nothing else, this week’s SmackDown certainly got off to a strong start. Opening with Sasha Banks’ rematch with Bayley, one of 2020’s signature angles took centre stage once more. Over four years removed from her first main roster championship win, Banks finally got a successful title defence under the belt. The match was unsurprisingly strong, hitting familiar notes in the latest instalment of an iconic series. This particular battle started with immense urgency, carrying that intensity throughout. They set a pace immediately and only accelerated from there.

Matches like this really emphasise this dynamic’s core ingredients, as compared to Hell in a Cell, it’s a mostly bare affair. It’s still stacked with creativity of course, because Banks and Bayley can’t help but innovate once the bell rings. These matches are carried by their chemistry though, that innate competition that allows unwavering intensity. Regardless of the story or scenario, Banks and Bayley can’t miss at this juncture. Whether they are playing the hits or breaking new ground, this pair is just exceedingly watchable.

With that being said, the TV format did cap this one somewhat, with ad breaks halting the match’s flow and rhythm. It’s not a classic but it didn’t need to be either, certainly providing a worthwhile addition to their growing collection. Naturally, the result concludes this programme and considering the path to this point, that remains puzzling to me. With Banks and Bayley both on SmackDown, this conflict seemed destined for an onslaught of extensions but apparently not, as the champ is now already positioned to move on.

Attacked by Carmella after her victory, Banks’ immediate future was swiftly made clear. This isn’t the opponent that Banks will strive for epics against, but I’m quietly confident that she’ll surprise some with her efforts. In my view at least, Carmella is more than capable of producing something impressive opposite a talent of Banks’ ilk. That isn’t really the focus here anyway, as Carmella’s character work will almost certainly decide this programme’s fate. If she can recapture her prior form as an antagonist though, Carmella could prove to be a perfect fit.

As a committed villain, Carmella may allow Banks some further definition as a babyface. If not, this is still a fresh match and if nothing else, fine filler as Banks’ title reign takes shape. On the other hand, I’m intrigued by Bayley’s next step. It’s almost hard to imagine this character existing away from the title picture, but that challenge now seemingly awaits. Assuming that she’s granted the necessary exposure though, Bayley’s likely to flourish, remaining a terrific heel that can maximise any opposition. Once she’s rebuilt a little, a Bianca Belair programme would be rather appealing.

Overall, this was another inconsistent week for the blue brand. On paper, this roster is WWE’s strongest in my view but on this episode at least, these Survivor Series qualifiers failed to capture that. I can only sympathise with King Corbin, whose dedication to the heel role has almost become an inside joke within the show’s fabric. Every match must overstay its welcome for the sake of boos, all excitement must be halted in the name of heat. It’s harmful to Corbin’s perception and frankly, it’s harmful to the product too.

This week, Corbin’s promising clash with Rey Mysterio fell victim to that very trend, resulting in a disappointing, tiresome bout. On a brighter note, I was glad to see Ruby Riott score a rare win, earning a place on SmackDown’s female Survivor Series team. That’s well-deserved and ideally, a sign of things to come for Riott, one of the division’s most versatile performers. On the contrary, what a strange case Otis has become. I never understood the singles push but this current approach is fascinating, as it appears counterproductive in every conceivable way.

Either way, SmackDown started well and ended solidly enough too, with Jey Uso embracing his new role alongside Roman Reigns. I enjoyed Uso’s interactions with Kevin Owens, both in-ring and out while Reigns remains an absolute delight, SmackDown’s standout character by far. Regardless, this show needs to relax a little on the distractions, it was almost satirical on this particular episode.  

Well folks, that concludes this week’s edition of ‘Takes, Takes and More Takes.’ Got a take? Send it over on the Twitter, @JoeHulbert5! Be nice though and try to disguise any critiques as compliments. Thanks pals, speak soon!