AEW: Grand Slam was a success
The Grand Slam edition of AEW’s flagship show Dynamite drew an average of 984,000 viewers, with roughly 48% of viewers being in the 18-49 demo. Multiple quarter-hours drew over 1 million viewers, with only the Saraya-Toni Storm Women’s Championship match being the weakest drawing segment. The show-closing World title match between Samoa Joe and MJF drew the best numbers of the night, including the overrun.
Local marketing and pricing of AEW’s shows has been nothing short of ass; the slow ticket sales of various events including Grand Slam offered ample evidence as such. The media blitz in New York media leading up to the show helped AEW generate some of its best walk-up ticket sale business in company history according to WrestleTix.
Hopefully, AEW follows through with turning the Grand Slam event into one of its PPVs. It is clear that AEW/ROH is going to the 12 PPV a year format. I think AEW will probably have 8 PPVs to ROH’s 4. While AEW veteran Jim Ross likes the quarterly PPV model, it requires a level of excellent TV to draw out angles to make it to the PPV. Typically, AEW TV more or less treads water up until 3-4 weeks before a PPV. Maybe more frequent PPVs will help AEW produce more stable and less chaotic television.
AEW: The company should take a great deal of care in its most well-received storylines
I’m not into armchair booking. Never really been my thing. I’m not in the wrestling business. I’m not a booker. Hell, this is an unpaid fanpost. But I will opine on one things:
Tony Khan is a guy that plays to the smarks, the smarts, smart fans, diehards—whatever you want to label yourselves. He knows how well-received Toni Storm’s Broken Hollywood dreams gimmick is. It’s an act that has a very, very lengthy shelf-life if presented carefully. One of the ways to present it? Don’t do anything that could shorten the character's shelf-life.
Even though I enjoyed the Saraya-Toni Storm match, I just wish it wasn't held so...early? There’s a great deal of decent TV that could come out of a Storm-Saraya program, but booking a title match that early, which should be a pivotal moment in the storyline, takes a few months off the character's shelf-life as the end goal should be Storm getting back to "normal" by regaining the AEW Women's Championship.
This whole thing is tricky because both Saraya and Storm prefer to be heels (as noted in an interview where Saraya's preferences were quoted not too long after the crowd started to turn against her).
With Britt Baker not interested in being a titleholder, Jamie Hayter being injured, and Hikaru Shida back in Japan for her MAKAI project, AEW does not have a heroic woman to act as a foil against Saraya for the time being and I can understand why AEW brass went with a Saraya-Storm match at Grand Slam. Nevertheless, the company should tread lightly.
The Bromance Triangle between World Champion MJF, Adam Cole, and Roderick Strong has been hilarious. I mean, the TV is a little bit iffy here and here, but it lands far more than it misses. The goal of this program is clear—it will tentatively lead to a MJF-Cole match at Full Gear in November. I am guessing the plan is to make Cole the next AEW World Champion; I would not be surprised if AEW books Cole to reform The Kingdom in a championship-winning heel turn.
But the TV has to get there. So far, the company has structured the advancement in the story fairly well. My only gripe is that the company booked a short-term feud between MJF and Samoa Joe as part of its odd approach to book short-term hot feuds just to get the buzz going only to abandon ship after one act. It’s easily one of the worst things about the company’s creative process.
AEW: Eddie Kingston finally wins the big one
Eddie Kingston has won over AEW audiences with his passionate in-character promos that draw from legitimate struggles that he has experienced in his personal and professional life. His raw authenticity in his microphone and in-ring performances makes him a highlight for many fans, most of whom were wondering when he would finally get his big signature AEW victory.
It came almost right at 3 years after he first joined the promotion. Kingston captured the ROH World Championship on his home turn on the Grand Slam edition of Dynamite, after wrestling a hard-hitting match against long-time titleholder Claudio Castagnoli, concluding a decade-long rivalry.
Kingston goes from underdog to big dog, and it will be curious to see how AEW-ROH will craft storylines for him. He is a gifted storyteller inside and outside the ring, and he has a knack of making even the weakest angles work: he did it in Impact and NWA. This should be hard to f*ck up considering Kingston is just an incredible TV act. But great actors have been saddled with bad scripts before which happened to bring down an entire movie despite the performance, so here’s hoping Kingston avoids the same fate with Khan holding the pencil.
AEW: Might want to revisit its protocols regarding mid-match concussions
Jon Moxley got rocked after taking a running somersault from Rey Fenix and proceeded to wrestle the next 15 or so minutes with a minor concussion. Only after Moxley took a sitout piledriver and subsequently not kicking out of the move did AEW decide to call an audible.
…Only that audible resulted in Rey Fenix doing another sitout piledriver to pin Moxley and win the AEW International Championship. Some observers, such as journalist-turned-wrestling podcaster Jon Alba, thought the referee missed the cue for the audible and Fenix had to do the closing sequence again.
AEW medical staff tended to Moxley, and luckily was able to walk out from ringside under his own power. To be clear: yes, Tony Khan checked on him immediately afterwards and no, Moxley did not go to the hospital.
Accidents do happen in pro wrestling—it’s unavoidable—but it was clear that Moxley wasn’t all there after that early match spot. Excalibur and Taz on commentary clearly demonstrated that even they were not sure if that was just Moxley doing excellent selling or if he was legitimately concussed. In any event, Moxley should have never been able to wrestle another 15 minutes, let alone take two dangerous piledriver spots to conclude the match, one of which seemed like to drop him on the head.
I wish Moxley a speedy recovery, but AEW might want to review its concussion protocol.
WWE: A hard-luck break for LA Knight
Four years ago, Shaun Ricker was wrestling as Eli Drake in NWA. An incredible performer back then, but he had "destined for a whole hell of a lot more" written all over him. Today, he is arguably the second-biggest babyface in the world’s biggest pro wrestling entertainment company. On the September 22 edition of Smackdown he was going to take the next big step forward into superstardom as he was going to enter the epic Bloodline saga fighting alongside WWE legend John Cena…
…Until the coronavirus said "NOPE". Knight tested positive for COVID and was sent home from the area, and presumably his big moment will take place on the September 29 episode of Smackdown. Well wishes to the WWE superstar.
For a guy that is reportedly in contract negotiations, this program could be the one thing that will absolutely keep him from going elsewhere. While the Internet still wishes for Cody Rhodes to be the man that dethrones Roman Reigns in 2024, don’t be surprised if sentiment turns towards Knight if he knocks it out of the park over the next couple of months.
WWE: Slowly building towards faction warfare
Faction warfare is coming in due time, but the pieces really have to start coming together first. Part of that piece took place on the September 22 episode of Smackdown between Street Profits and Latino World Order.
Bobby Lashley, the quintessential businessman, wants back up to achieve his lofty goals in WWE. He’s settled on being a mentor to the fun loving Profits. It’s a timeless angle—AEW did the same thing a couple of years back with Matt Hardy and Private Party—but so far, I think WWE’s execution has been better in the early going. It will be interesting to see the Profits transition from a goofy athletic team with a hint of ethics, to amoral mercenaries aiding and abetting Lashley’s pursuit for supremacy.
Judgment Day did not factor into Smackdown this week, but expect them to continue to pop up on every show going forward. With Roman Reigns not around, Judgment Day is the top faction in WWE. I’m assuming things will eventually break down as follows:
Cody Rhodes, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Jey Uso
Street Profits and Bobby Lashley
Latino World Order
It will be curious if WWE will commit to the inter-brand faction warfare angle as it seems that's the direction things are going. It will add fresh energy and unpredictability to each of the broadcasts.
The last significant faction warfare angle WWE did was over 25 years ago during the first year of the Attitude Era. The Nation of Domination, Truth Commission, Los Boricuas, D-Generation-X, The Hart Foundation, and Disciples of Apocalypse participated in a "Gang Wars" angle that was high on potential but short on execution. During this time, WWE had yet to hit their stride with the change in their creative presentation, especially with the lack of television time available to effectively present the characters involved. The approach the company is using now is far better – letting things build before it really gets hot.
For what it’s worth: I think this is building to what will be the bulk of the matches at Survivor Series.
WWE: It’s been an interesting first week for TKO Holdings
The first week of the post WWE-UFC merger has been…something.
A pretty ugly exposé in the Los Angeles Times.
TKO admitting in a filing that Vince McMahon’s involvement in the new company could be a liability.
Corporate layoffs. Talent releases, including Matt Riddle, Shelton Benjamin, Mustafa Ali, and Dolph Ziggler.
Smackdown moving back to USA Network in 2024, ending its run as WWE’s "A" show.
I will say that WWE fans should not worry about a great deal of things changing. WWE ratings are up year-over-year; their live business is doing spectacular; and their broadcast partners are willing to shell out nine figures annually for the right to broadcast the most reliable weekly television draw on the market right now in the lucrative 18-49 advertiser demo. Considering that Monday Night Raw has been cable television’s top scripted program on Mondays during the 2023-24 television season, I would not be surprised if Raw ends up on NBC on Monday nights.
WWE: Nia Jax is back
Everyone’s favorite women’s wrestler is back. Nia Jax returned to WWE in the past few days, and according to WWE insider WrestleVotes, is going to be positioned as the #2 villainess on Monday nights behind Rhea Ripley.
Diehard wrestling fans hate her, but WWE is not for diehard wrestling fans. In many ways, they have made that very, very clear. WWE clearly sees Nia Jax as a reliable TV act, and gives WWE a decent foil for babyface women performers who they don’t want to necessarily put in a program with Ripley.
Jax should continue to be a lone wolf heel, attacking other heels and babyfaces alike. She’s there to be a secondary antagonist and as long as she maintains that role, I think fans will live with her being back in WWE.
Impact Wrestling: 1,000 shows is a hell of an accomplishment
Over 5 years ago, then-TNA was mired in serious financial trouble. Talent left. Promotion was operating on stilts. Years of bad luck and mismanagement threatened to finish the company off.
Even though Impact Wrestling only has a fraction of the television viewership it had before being dumped by Paramount, the company has reimagined itself as a creative tour de force in pro wrestling. It’s a quirky brand that combines the serious, the comical, and the outright campy. And its eponymous flagship television show crossed the 1,000 episode mark, something that seemed inconceivable given the myriad of issues the promotion has had throughout its existence.
The two-part show, which was taped back to back a couple of weeks ago in Albany, New York, was a fun event and most long-time Impact fans were happy with it from what I’ve seen. Josh Alexander and Impact World Champion Alex Shelley set up their Bound For Glory bout; there was a 10-woman tag match (even though Gail Kim did unfortunately suffer a concussion), and a solid Ultimate X match. Overall, Impact 1000 was like most milestone episodes: a tribute to its past, a thank you to its present, and a nod to its future.
Impact will continue to be a stable alternative to mainstream giants WWE and AEW; and if you are looking for a very creative, think-outside-the-box option for your pro wrestling consumption, then look no further than AXS TV’s leading TV option.
In General: Let’s talk about moves
Sometimes across the social media landscape, I come across very weird debates between wrestling fans where one fan will try to put down a wrestler because of the lack of an extensive moveset. It just makes me facepalm.
On one hand, I get it: some fans watch pro wrestling on a deeper level. They are enthused by the moves, the cleanliness of transitions, the smoothness of performances, and all the little minor details about a match. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. At all. Zero, zilch, nada wrong.
What does leave me flabbergasted is that some fans will judge the worthiness of a performer based upon how many moves they use. But if we’re being honest here:
Hulk Hogan was the biggest box office draw in the 1980s. His usual moveset? Punches, clotheslines, suplexes, scoop slams, a big boot, and a leg drop. That’s it. That was a typical 1983 to 1993 Hulk Hogan match.
Steve Austin was the biggest box office draw of the 1990s. At his peak in 1998 and 1999—after recovering from his 1997 broken neck—a brawling style that incorporated stomps, kicks, jumping elbows, a Lou Thesz press, suplex, and the Stone Cold Stunner. He did break out the Million Dollar Dream submission hold in his match against The Rock in 2001.
The Rock, who is arguably the biggest wrestling star of all time, got over on theatrical kicks, punches, a front spinebuster, an awful sharpshooter, a release belly-to-belly suplex, a DDT (he also used to use a float over DDT up to 1999), a theatrical elbow drop, and the uru-nage better known as The Rock Bottom.
These are run of the mill moves that got over so well because the audiences deeply cared about the acts performing them.
One of the things that irks me about some AEW matches, especially with the younger talent, is that they care more about getting their spot or move in instead of serving the match. The moves really do not matter—unless the performer wants to impress a few people on social media. What ultimately matters is what is done to serve the purpose of the match.
Saraya and Toni Storm’s match at Grand Slam wasn’t well received by many fans online, but I personally thought the whole thing was brilliant. Both of them put the story first: Storm was losing it and Saraya wanted to beat some sense into Storm. The moves of the match really did not matter; neither did its lack of smoothness. They hit all the main story beats. I liked it.
However, there are two examples that stand out to me and both of them are from this year:
At Wrestlemania, Cody Rhodes and Roman Reigns performed a fantastic match, even though Rhodes probably only used 5 or 6 different moves and Reigns only used about 3 or 4. Both men told a fantastic story, and even though the TV leading up to the event gave away that Reigns was going to retain, audiences that watched the match really believed that Rhodes was going to pull it off. When performers commit to the story at hand and know how to perform a match to manipulate the crowd’s anticipation and emotions, then who really cares how much of a wrestler’s repertoire was actually used?
At Forbidden Door, Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay wrestled another classic, which was fundamentally different from their Wrestle Kingdom encounter. The June match was much more character driven, and while both men generally impress fans by their extensive catalog of moves, this match was not about moves. In fact, the vast majority of the match did not include any moves whatsoever because it simply didn’t need to. In fact, most fans are only going to remember one move in the match—the Tiger Driver ‘91 that Ospreay executed on Omega. Omega and Ospreay clearly discussed it beforehand and it served as a pivotal moment in their bout.
All I am saying is that a wrestler does not need an extensive repertoire of moves to be great. A wrestler can just be very basic at what they do, and as long as they know how to effectively tell a story, present themselves as a character, and perform safely, then they can absolutely be considered one of the greatest performers ever. It’s about the memories that are made and the impression left on the audience. It’s not that complicated.