FanPost

10 Things: The Week in Pro Wrestling (Oct. 22-28, 2023)

WWE.com

Buckle up, this is quite a long one.

(MLW) Why do promoters hold wrestlers hostage?

Alexander Hammerstone, who has been a major part of Major League Wrestling for five years, reportedly asked for his release according to a story dropped late last week by Fightful. Hammerstone, who lost the MLW World Heavyweight Championship to Alex Kane, has not performed for the company since July.

MLW has declined to grant his release at this time, reports Fightful, still wanting to keep him in the fold. Even though the two sides had been talking, the relationship has deteriorated in the past few weeks. Hammerstone wants to move on; MLW head Court Bauer probably feels that the relationship can be salvaged.

Maybe it is because of a previous career that I had, but I always felt if someone wants to no longer be employed, then they should just be able to go. The idea that promoters can essentially hold performers—who are independent contractors—hostage is quite despicable to me.

Yes, a contract may say that the performer needs to fulfill their obligations to the promotion; however, when something is clearly not working anymore—why put shackles on the talent? Alexander Hammerstone does not want to work for Major League Wrestling anymore. He feels that Major League Wrestling is no longer right for him. He has not performed for the company in July and, as noted by Fightful, he’s not booked on any of the company’s upcoming shows. Why deny a guy an opportunity to move on with his career?

A performer signs a contract with a promotion believing that it is the best option for them; an option that will allow them to make a living as well as grow as a performer. Pro wrestling is a physical, dangerous form of entertainment, and performers have maddeningly weak avenues to exercise their rights as laborers.

Noted wrestling labor activist CM Punk in an interview last week said that pro wrestlers should have a union, but won’t have a union because they are too selfish. We can all stew on the irony of the person saying it, but he has a point.

(WWE) Sometimes matches with an obvious result doesn’t hurt

If the plan is to have Cody Rhodes and Roman Reigns face each other in less than six months at WrestleMania, this is the way to quell the thirst for a Reigns-LA Knight main event—by doing it at the upcoming Crown Jewel event.

LA Knight is by no means winning, but this match is a hell of an endorsement for a performer that was stuck in a dead-on-arrival gimmick as a talent agent for a hack pair of male models less than two years ago.

Knight got a great presentation on this past Friday’s SmackDown. He opened the show getting a few verbal shots in against Reigns in the very, over-well-done contract signing segment. Later, Knight would get some "momentum" by defeating Bloodline black sheep Jimmy Uso, followed by laying out Reigns with his finishing move, the Blunt Force Trauma, to close the most watched show in pro wrestling.

I imagine that Knight and Reigns will have a hard-hitting match where Knight starts off hot, then Reigns dominates for the second act, and the third act will have Knight’s comeback stymied by Bloodline shenanigans.

Reigns is rumored to go on another sabbatical after Crown Jewel, so the real intrigue of the match is what the finish will parlay into for Knight’s future. Knight is a strong TV act and by no means will be relegated to a lower position than he is now. However, as I said last week, the TV following the loss has to be good. It wasn’t good for a while for Drew McIntyre after his loss at Clash At The Castle in 2022; for the sake of Knight’s fans, I hope history doesn’t repeat itself.

(WWE) There is a little bit of intrigue here

We’ll find out soon enough if Carmelo Hayes was behind the attack on Trick Williams on NXT a couple of weeks back, but give Shawn Michaels and company credit for deviating from the typical pro wrestling book with this storyline.

The Trick-Carmelo split has progressed slowly without an immediate heel turn by either one of them. It turned out to be a good thing as whatever ends up being the exact circumstances that leads to the reveal of Williams’ attacker will have a bit more impact. These are two guys that have bankable futures, and their feud has to be written to where when it actually does come to an end, both can be on an ascending path rather than one of them (Hayes) being the sole beneficiary.

I imagine the reveal would be either during Night 2 of NXT: Halloween Havoc or on next week’s episode.

Editor's note: HCH's FanPost was originally published before the Oct. 31 NXT. Everything written above still applies, but you can read about what happened at Halloween Havoc Night 2 here.

(ROH) The wholesome Minion storyline takes a dark turn

The best women’s storyline in the AEW-ROH universe is not Timeless Toni Storm or the Corruption of Skye Blue, but the Athena-Billie Starkz story.

On the latest episode of Ring of Honor Wrestling, Athena and Starkz faced off against Diamante and Mercedes Martinez. Starkz got pinned after a powerbomb-blockbuster combination from Diamante and Martinez. That is the first decision-loss for Athena in Ring of Honor where she reigns as its Women’s World Champion. After the match, Martinez posed with the belt and demanded a rematch with Athena.

Later on in the show, Athena called another "Minion Empowerment Meeting" with Starkz and Lexy Nair. Fuming, Athena berated Starkz, blaming her for the loss and having to give Martinez a rematch.

After a few weeks of comical segments and interactions, this represents a dark turn in the ongoing storyline, as Athena’s bullying and emotional abuse of the 18-year-old Starkz is now in the clear. Major props to Starkz for holding her own in this angle.

Without question, this is the greatest women’s storyline that Tony Khan has had a hand in producing. Undoubtedly, Athena is writing most of it. It is a very good example of how matches can serve an on-going story and how performers can make the most of a 90-120 seconds worth of promo time to advance an angle on a weekly basis. Remarkably, it is the complete antithesis of how Khan typically books a women’s division.

(WWE) Looks like Jade Cargill is coming for Becky Lynch

Even though I’ve always felt that Jade Cargill was a better fit in WWE than in AEW, it is still weird to see her in WWE.

Nevertheless, she was more visible last week on Night 1 of Halloween Havoc, as she took in the match between Lyra Valkyria and future Hall of Famer and fellow countrywoman Becky Lynch for Lynch’s NXT Women’s Championship. It was an entertaining main event contest that saw Valkyria defeat Lynch clean.

Cargill’s presentation is not too overwhelmingly different in WWE than in AEW. The security and the ostentatious chair was a nice touch.

It seems that Cargill’s first feud in WWE is going to be with Lynch, if the rumors prove to be true that she will start on the main roster with the Raw team. Lynch would be the perfect person for Cargill to work with, as the one thing that Cargill probably lacked in AEW is a feud with a top-tier foil.

However, I would have loved to see Cargill in NXT, because at least she would get the TV time to really develop her character. I love Cargill’s act as a confident, yet arrogant alpha female with a hint of urban grandeur. In any event, I’m still bullish on Cargill and can’t wait to see what happens next.

(AEW) About that Skye Blue storyline…

The Corruption of Skye Blue story is a perfect example of how a good-to-great idea can be let down by really bad progression on television.

In the lead up to Julia Hart’s tilt on WrestleDream against Kris Statlander, Hart had a match with Skye Blue where Hart spewed the black mist into Blue’s face. She would later get Willow Nightingale the same way. After Statlander defeated Hart, she would successfully defend her TBS Championship against both Skye and Nightingale; Statlander offered a display of good sportsmanship to both women who she considers her friends: Blue rejected it while, on the contrary, Nightingale accepted it—to the chagrin of Blue.

Over the past few days, Nightingale’s make-up has signified that the darkness from the mist is receding while Blue is seemingly becoming more corrupt. In promo segments on back-to-back nights (Rampage and Collision), Statlander demanded answers from both, with Blue being singled out for being worse off than Nightingale. Blue would respond with uncharacteristic snark, trading her typically bubbly confidence with much more serious and defiant demeanor.

On paper, it’s a great idea. In execution, however, this has left so much on the table. The storyline is being told in bits and pieces—not ideal for something that has a decent amount of potential. I feel that it is being let down by Statlander being the one asking what’s wrong with the two friends she defeated decisively in the ring in successive weeks. I think if Nightingale and Blue did not face off against Statlander the past couple of weeks, a few more doors with this story.

My guess is this: Statlander will once again face off against Hart for the TBS title. Only this time, a fully corrupted Blue ends up helping Hart win it. Blue could be Hart’s henchwoman for a while, only to turn against Hart later on.

(WWE) Give WWE credit for getting into a groove, but I still hate the brand split

WWE programming is filled with more hits and misses these days, and its approach at structuring their broadcasts as conventional TV shows that use wrestling as a storytelling medium is probably as effective as it has been in years.

While it is a little bit too polished and a little bit too slick for my tastes—I was introduced to pro wrestling during the much gritter and campy Attitude Era—the shows flow fairly well and the story beats are easy to follow. No time is wasted on WWE programming, and that goes for Raw, SmackDown, and NXT.

The only real killer for me is that there are way too many championships. This is a complete overkill of plot devices, and I think WWE would go from good to absolutely great if the company simply got rid of the brand split concept once and for all. It does not have the value nor the importance that it had circa 2002.

…But if they have to have it, I would like to see this:

The world titles are merged and the main event angles play out on both shows; the women’s titles are merged and play out on both shows. The men’s midcard angles and the lower card women’s angles can play out on each individual show to add unique flair.

WWE had been going in this direction until the company felt they had to have a second world championship because they were not ready to take it off Roman Reigns. I think it is the only significant mistake thus far in what has been a creative renaissance under Paul "Triple H" Levesque.

(AEW) LFI is back

Rush, Dralistico, and Perro Peligroso returned to AEW TV last weekend on Collision, joining a brawl with FTR against villains Big Bill, Ricky Starks, and The House of Black.

LFI has been hyped for the past month plus with slick video packages that basically tell a story of rediscovering themselves as a vicious gang looking to reach the top of AEW. It’s the type of thing that AEW does well—hype things up with slick video packages and show some promise on TV.

LFI would cut a promo later saying that they are not "good" or "bad" guys, but they’re coming after everyone. Good stuff. It got the AEW nerds really excited.

The problem is that AEW is terrible at the follow-up. That’s one of the weird things about the promotion that, five years in, I still don’t get. Well, I do get it—it’s because AEW lacks proper television writers.

It’s good to see those three back, but I’m sort of resigning myself to the fact that this will probably be a let down. We’ll see. As I said, AEW is a great wrestling promotion that is absolutely terrible at television writing.

(AEW) A pointless, yet great match

Kenny Omega and MJF performed one of the best TV matches of the year. It didn't get great viewership—not that it was going to considering both college football and the World Series was going on (which was a decent contest until the Diamondbacks later blew it wide open).

The match was a textbook example of how to give an exciting, compelling performance despite the fact that the most attentive AEW observers already knew the outcome. And give them credit for trying to stay one step ahead of the "IWC" by teasing Don Callis shenanigans, but ending the match with a clean finish.

With that being said, the match was pointless TV. I’m not going to speculate as to when the idea for the match came to be; I am assuming it has been in the works for a couple of weeks, because the beating-the-record story started as an off-the-cuff joke on Being The Elite, then moved to television a few days later. Only one promo and a slick video package built up the match before the episode of Collision.

In a way, the match was an illustration of everything that’s good and everything that’s bad about AEW. AEW fans are going to be treated to a spectacular match by some of the best performers on earth. The promise of a great match on a nightly basis is enough to keep an ardent fanbase. On the flip side, AEW continues to prove that it struggles—or, well, straight up can’t—draw on the strength of its stories.

Like the TV match of the decade—the hour-long match between Bryan Danielson and Hangman Adam Page—it won’t mean much in the long run. The "Max’s enemies" storyline is not going to have a better match than the one that took place on Collision. I cannot help but to think where the company would be if Tony Khan focused more on having five-star storylines that lead to five-star wrestling matches, rather than trying to score five-star wrestling matches out of storylines that suffer from significant underdevelopment on television.

An ode to Lucha Underground

October 29 was the 9th anniversary of the debut of Lucha Underground, or the most progressive step pro-wrestling has ever taken. Diving head first into the wrestling TV format, the "TV show about a pro wrestling promotion" ran for four seasons, ultimately ending in November 2018. Low viewership, high production costs, and its inability to balance being a pro wrestling promotion and a television production doomed the promising series.

The first two seasons of Lucha Underground was a crowning achievement in the world of TV pro wrestling. Chris DeJoseph—who regrettably has been shown to be a bit of a pervert—and Eric Van Wagenen, with the support of El Rey Network head and acclaimed filmmaker Richard Rodriguez and television producer Mark Burnett, offered a lens into what pro wrestling could be: a balance between exciting action with deep, layered storytelling.

Aside from the network, I will say that Lucha Underground was undermined by leaning too much on the supernatural aspects of lucha libre lore. I didn’t quite mind it, but it did create a significant barrier of entry to those that might have otherwise given it a shot. The limited reach of the network didn’t help either.

The influence of Lucha Underground is immense. Rey Fenix, Pentagon Jr., Ricochet (as Prince Puma), Thunder Rosa (as Kobra Moon), Santos Escobar (as King Cuerno), Swerve Strickland (as Killshot), AR Fox (as Dante Fox), and Brian Cage among others that were either introduced or had their profiles raised thanks to their involvement in the promotion.

Since then, I’ve looked for promotions to at least try to get to Lucha Underground’s level. Wrestling on TV has fallen years and years behind other developments in televised scripted programming. Lucha, I felt, was the first attempt for pro wrestling to at least tap into what was called the Golden Age of Television. It was an actual step-forward that showed what pro wrestling was capable of.

Nothing has come close since.

I’m going to be quite frank here and I might say something sacreligious to some of you—I really don’t give a shit about "workrate" and "dream matches". Little of it matters to me. Don’t get me wrong, I will love a well-performed match. I like artistry. But I would rather be able to enjoy a five-star story over weeks and months than watch a single five-star match. Stories enhance the power of the match and make it truly memorable; "workrate" in a "dream match" is really only for those that are a nerd about those types of things, which is a small segment of the pro wrestling audience.

Conversely, I hate promotions that take themselves too seriously. I think WWE produces the best wrestling TV available right now—but it is still overproduced, way too slick, and takes itself way too seriously in marketing. That’s just my personal taste, but their approach does work. Taking itself too seriously while not having the production values to justify it turned me off on Major League Wrestling and NWA.

Impact Wrestling under Scott D’Amore tries to reach Lucha Underground’s level of balancing ring action and deep storytelling, but it sometimes leans way too much into campiness and, like AEW, lacks experienced television writers to pull it off effectively.

I think that’s also what frustrates me the most about AEW. That promotion has so much promise. It has a range of performers capable of pulling off multi-dimensional characters and creative storylines. But Tony Khan, lacking the experience as a television producer and lacking the support of a professional television writing staff, has a tough time maintaining consistency. It’s only amplified due to constant issues keeping talent off TV, whether it is injuries or visa issues among some of its performers.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I write these things for fun, I wouldn’t even bother with watching weekly wrestling TV shows. I’ve never seen so much collective potential wasted.

Lucha Underground may have never entered the mainstream; but the fingerprints of the promotion is all over place, thanks to the talent that have moved on to bigger and better things. However, the one thing I wish promotions drew from it is how to add compelling depth to its television programming.

The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Cageside Seats readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cageside Seats editors or staff.