Here are 10 things I am paying attention to in the world of pro wrestling:
#10 "Jilted Bromance" is AEW's best on-going storyline.
The bromance triangle between Roderick Strong, Adam Cole, and AEW World Champion MJF should not be this entertaining. However, those three, along with supporting characters Samoa Joe and The Kingdom's Matt Taven and Mike Bennett, have made the angle AEW's best story of the year.
The real heart of the angle is not MJF-Cole, but rather Strong's ridiculous portrayal as the jilted bro is just an incredible piece of pro wrestling acting. When it comes to pro wrestling, overacting is not necessarily a pejorative. Strong's melodramatic acting makes the whole thing work.
Can the TV presentation be smoother? Yes. As I said numerous times, AEW's weekly TV writing is not that great and would benefit greatly from an experienced TV writer, but this angle has not overstayed its welcome and so far, there's still many miles for this to go.
#9 The "Going Their Own Way" Bloodline Chapter...works?
Jimmy and Jey Uso don't have each other or a country at the moment, but how WWE is choosing to tell their parallel stories separately makes for interesting TV viewing.
Jey is on Raw, at the behest of Cody Rhodes and to the warm reception of Sami Zayn. However, those that have been burned by The Bloodline before, such as Drew McIntyre and Kevin Owens, are distrustful of him. Meanwhile, the ever present Judgment Day, riding high with all the titles they are currently holding, are actively trying to recruit Jay into their fold to, presumably, eliminate a potential threat to their dominance.
Meanwhile, Jimmy is on Smackdown by himself as his brother left to get away from him and the rest of The Bloodline. Jimmy, who was the source of the original dissension of The Bloodline with his superkick on Roman Reigns back in the spring, is now wanting back in. However, Paul Heyman and Solo Sikoa don't trust him either.
It is a bit of irony in storytelling. Jimmy is now everything that he claims that he wanted keep Jey from becoming: a manipulative opportunist. On the other hand, Jey is getting to be what Jimmy always wanted to be: his own man. Even though Jimmy's TV is not landing completely, things should kick into high gear with the impending faction warfare a la 1997.
#8 Sonny Kiss might have a home in Impact Wrestling
Sonny Kiss is one hell of an athlete. The Jersey native was unfortunately let go by AEW after the company opted not to renew her contract. AEW boss Tony Khan alluded to the loss of the YouTube shows as part of the exclusivity agreement with Warner Bros Discovery in the wake of Collison led her to be on the chopping block.
Sonny was obviously and understandably hurt, but is using this as motivation. She has a few indie bookings lined up. After an appearance on Busted Open Radio, co-host Tommy Dreamer told her to reach out to him via text after the show.
One of the most high-profile genderfluid performers in pro wrestling, her biggest highlight came during the pandemic era, when she wrestled a solid match against TNT Champion Cody Rhodes on an episode of Dynamite. Afterwards, she had an entertaining tag team and later rivalry with Joey Janela, who also is no longer with the promotion. Unfortunately, things fizzled out after being on the losing end of the Janela feud, with a later heel turn with a stable that petered out quickly as it came together.
I hope Sonny gets a shot in Impact Wrestling, where company could offer her better TV opportunities. She is an intelligent and creative performer, and she just might have a bigger opportunity there to develop her creativity as a performer. It's worked wonders for Alan Angels, who went from being just a very good worker in the Dark Order stable to being a reliable midcard act in Impact.
#7 AEW's domestic attendance is getting a little iffy
All In was a rousing success in terms of attendance. So was All Out. WrestleDream and Full Gear should do well. The TV shows, however? That might be a different story.
When AEW came to Cincinnati last time (the October 24, 2022 event), the show drew roughly 4,700 fans. The main event of show was headlined by AEW World Champion Jon Moxley going against Penta El Zero. The September 13, 2023 event drew fewer than 3,000 fans, according to data available from WrestleTix. While revenue has been up for AEW, attendance has been down in many of AEW's markets they have revisited.
AEW Grand Slam is set to draw a little more than half of the audience they had at the debut event in 2021. As loyal as AEW fans are to the promotion, I think fans have become savvy enough to when a show is going to be worth the time and effort to attend.
#6 A new era in WWE begins
UFC started to adopt a lot of what WWE did in terms of marketing their fighters and promoting their most high profile matches. UFC soon siphoned a great deal of popularity from WWE in the early 2000s, drawing audiences that wanted legitimate contests with some of the pro wrestling promotional theatrics. Fighters soon became household names.
WWE tried in vain to attempt to tap into that audience, but did not necessarily understand (or perhaps underestimated) how much UFC fans wanted to get away from being fans of "fake fights". MMA fans who stick their nose up to pro wrestling are probably far more obnoxious than any of the so-called "smarks", "neckbeards", "e-drones", or "IWC" fans. Ultimately, WWE didn't catch on to the fact that there was nothing they could really offer them—even Brock Lesnar.
However, Nick Khan changed a lot of that for WWE. Hard to say how much influence Khan had, but ever since the former head of CAA joined the promotion as its COO and now President, the company has seen a massive increase in business, in part because of its improved profile as a credible entertainment company.
Now these worlds finally unite as the TKO Group was formally born on September 12, 2023. The WWE-UFC merger under the umbrella of Ari Emanuel Endeavor's serves as a watershed moment in American combat sports and American pro wrestling. September 11, 2023 served as the last day that a McMahon family member served as controlling shareholder of WWE.
What does it mean for fans? Well—not much will change aside from some cross promotion. The one thing to look out for, however, is its next TV rights deal. FOX is rumored not to have the appetite to pay $300 million per year for WWE programming, even though WWE Smackdown is the best non-football or non-baseball property it has in its portfolio in the coveted 18-49 demographic.
#5 Hopefully, it is Swerve's house at WrestleDream
Swerve Strickland and Hangman Adam Page made their match official for WrestleDream in Seattle. For many of those that admire Swerve, it is hoped that the match will be the start of his ascent to being a central figure in AEW programming. The Seattle, Washington-native has been an outstanding heel thus far, even though he has come up on the short end of the stick in certain feuds and taken pinfalls that have his fans wringing their hands for a big signature win.
This could be the start of something big. Swerve is the total five-tool package in terms of wrestling ability, promo skills, acting ability, reliability, and marketability. AEW needs to make the investment in Swerve as the company needs a big time TV draw that will not only grow viewership, but also emerge as a TV star that people will want to buy tickets to see.
It can start with a career-defining victory against a made man in the middle of the ring in his hometown.
#4 Salina De La Renta returns to MLW
Salina De La Renta is the best heel manager in wrestling and it's not even close. The villainess of all villainesses, who has created a character that is a riveting take on the telenovela antagonist, returned to MLW this past week after leaving the promotion back in 2021.
It remains to be seen what she will be doing next—she only just came back a few days ago—but count me as one of the people that's excited to see her back on Fusion. The show really was lacking without her, as her over-the-top melodramatic acting was sorely missed.
#3 If the rumors are true, Jade Cargill made a smart move
I like Jade Cargill a lot, but she is a WWE-style performer in a non-WWE environment. Where Jade's look, charisma, and athleticism is an easy sell for WWE audiences, the fact that she isn't the smoothest worker in the ring was something a loud minority of AEW fans could not get past.
Cargill is rumored to be finishing up with AEW this week and headed to WWE as soon as she's legally allowed to sign a contract with them. For WWE, it is an enormous pick up and for Cargill, the biggest opportunity of her career. However, for AEW...
...I sort of see this as an embarrassment? The company made a significant investment in her, but she was ultimately let down by AEW. She made progress—albeit not to the standards that some fans have—in the ring, but her strength was always in her character work. After a rough start, she became a viable TV act for AEW...
...And AEW failed to capitalize. The Baddies stable with Keira Hogan, Red Velvet, and later Leila Gray replacing an injured Velvet, did not hit the stride they could have. Not continuing with Stokley Hathaway didn't help either.
Cargill will thrive in WWE. The WWE-style does not focus so much on specific moves, but rather sequences that ultimately serve the match. She's very athletic, so she will catch on to the WWE-style quickly. Her signature pump kick is still excellent; and I would imagine that she will continue to use the Glam Slam/Widows Peak as a finishing maneuver.
All in all, I'll look back at Jade Cargill's AEW tenure as a run that didn't reach its potential. She will, however, be a massive star in WWE if she does end up going there.
#2 Signing Bryan Danielson may be the best thing AEW has ever done
It is interesting that Bryan Danielson turned out to be everything that Tony Khan hoped CM Punk would be.
Danielson is the undisputed ace of AEW; he came back a month early from injury to save the All Out pay-per-view and perhaps weeks upon weeks of television on Collision, in the wake of Punk being fired. A few reports over the past week explained how Danielson has become one of Khan's most trusted advisors, as the company is forced to navigate another body of water that they didn't think they would be swimming in.
The Danielson-Starks Strap Match is lauded as one of the greatest ever for good reason—the incredible level of storytelling. It is a testament to both performers that such a riveting performance could be put together in such short time.
Danielson is no stranger to stepping up; after Jon Moxley bravely went to rehab, Danielson served as Hangman Page's first feud after the latter won the AEW World Title from Kenny Omega. The American Dragon would do it again a year later in the wake of CM Punk's injury and the ensuing brawl, serving as MJF's first major pay-per-view feud after The Long Island Devil won the World title from Moxley.
AEW and their fans should be forever grateful for Danielson, as he's been the company's MVP thus far in 2023, despite missing time for injuries. As his career winds down, Danielson's run in AEW will probably be the most important part of his legacy, even if the Yes! Movement might be what fans remember most.
The signing of a decade by any promotion.
#1 Becky is still the man and a big time draw
Let's not get too ahead of ourselves. The reason why NXT did so well this week is because many viewers that would only normally watch the "main roster" shows tuned into see Becky Lynch to face off against Tiffany Stratton. Nevertheless, it was a tremendous success and Stratton is a made woman in defeat.
The Lynch-Stratton match ended up doing 1 million total viewers in the overrun, with a little less than 40% of those viewers being in the 18-49 demo. The two wrestled a good match, with Stratton being an excellent cocky heel that couldn't put away the wily, never-say-die veteran.
To say that Lynch "doesn't need the belt" is a tired, whiny fan trope that fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of modern purpose of titles: they're plot devices. That's it. I mean, yes, it is a symbol of pride for the performer and a mark of trust by the promoter, but they're still plot devices. It's not the person that makes the title important or even the title that makes the person important; it's the story that is being told that gives value to the title as, you guessed it, a plot device.
From a business standpoint, this was Stratton's moment to shine and shine she did. Even though she only held the title for 100 days and didn't really have a show-stealing feud during it, Stratton showed that she could be trusted in a spotlight match. The Buff Barbie has a long career ahead in WWE and I would not be surprised if she parlays that into an acting career. I don't think I've ever seen anyone nail the spoiled rich brat character as well as Stratton has in years.
But back to Lynch. Even though she may not be the most artistic performer in the ring, it does not really matter to me or to her most ardent admirers. She's an unforgettable, unmistakable performer that is effective at the things that matter most in a match: showing the feelings and the struggles of her character from bell-to-bell. Heroine or villain—doesn't matter—Lynch answers the call every single time and that's why she is the biggest women's wrestling star of the past 20 years.