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It’s been another week with no shortage of topics to discuss in the world of pro wrestling. I sure picked quite the time to start this column here at PWTorch, because over the last weeks we have seen some of the most newsworthy items of the year coming at us on a near daily basis.
Let’s get to five thoughts on what we’ve seen in the world of professional wrestling over the last seven days.
1. Cody put over Malakai Black the right way
Over the last couple of years, some have (mistakenly) labeled Cody Rhodes as the Triple H of AEW. This misguided notion, at least at the start, was due to Cody being such a focal point of television. However, that focus was warranted as one of the founding members of the organization, let alone the fact that he has continued to be one AEW’s most popular figures.
Despite his featured roles, Cody has never shied away from putting over someone the right way. The list is long during his time with AEW. Some of the names include Darby Allin, MJF, Brodie Lee, and now Malakai Black.
Black absolutely obliterated Rhodes in a one-sided main event match Wednesday night on Dynamite, reminiscent of when Cody did the job to Brodie. Nearly everything about this was perfect and got Black over as a bigger deal – more so than anything that he ever did on WWE’s main roster.
And then Cody went on to seemingly begin a retirement speech after the match – that is until Black came back and took him out once more. We can expect Cody to go on leave for a few months as he and wife Brandi welcome their new baby, but when he returns, he’s going come back with some serious steam and the fans ready to see these two do battle once again. In the meantime, Black has been made and solidified as a main event level talent with AEW.
Compare this to how WWE treated Karrion Kross during his main roster debut. What AEW and Cody did here is how you debut someone the proper way if you want them to be a star.
2. Where does C.M. Punk fit in?
Speaking of welcoming new babies, “Hangman” Adam Page will seemingly miss AEW All Out entirely with the pending birth of his and his wife’s first child, as well as the pending debut of C.M. Punk.
When word first broke that Page was being taken out of the long expected match with Kenny Omega at All Out, the rationale seemed to be not wanting a possible debut match for Punk to overshadow his (expected) triumphant championship victory. And while that may be part of it, the birth of your first child is also a darn good reason to miss a PPV event. Was that attack from The Elite this week meant to write Page off of television for a while?
So now, we start looking ahead to what they will do with Punk after his expected debut on the Aug. 20 edition of Rampage from Chicago. With many predicting Punk will wrestle at All Out, several possibilities have been thrown out there: Possibly a match against Darby Allin (which was teased on Dynamite last week) or even a match with Kenny Omega for the AEW World Title.
My co-hosts on the Top Rope Nation podcast pitched another idea last week: What about a six-man match pitting Omega and The Young Bucks against Punk, Allin, and Sting?
The Bucks seemingly have no challengers for the tag titles at All Out as things stand right now following the Dark Order’s loss last week, and although Christian has been announced as the number one contender, he just doesn’t feel like a PPV-level challenger for Omega (do that match on Rampage to get the show over as important, please).
A six-man contest with all of these names would put everyone in a highly anticipated match, while also allowing Punk, who hasn’t wrestled in over seven years, a chance to ease back into the ring without the pressure of a singles bout.
3. More proof that NXT’s focus is shifting
In this column last week, I wrote about NXT seemingly falling out of favor with Vince McMahon. Those words seemed to ring true this past Friday night as several more NXT wrestlers were cut. There have also been reports of an entire shift in the way WWE is looking at the brand’s role moving forward, including an edict of not pushing smaller wrestlers and instead focusing on bigger, more muscular performers – reminiscent of McMahon’s 1980s philosophy.
The end game here seems to be NXT falling back into serving as a true developmental territory rather than the “third brand” that WWE pitched it as in recent years. After failing to defeat AEW on Wednesday nights, there’s no doubt that McMahon is frustrated with the brand and the people who have been pulling the strings at NXT – namely Triple H and Shawn Michaels. There seems to be a real power struggle going on behind the scenes here.
In reality, the reason for the brand slipping is that it has lost the interest of its niche audience. Once a WWE-owned show that could satisfy the “workrate” fans who wanted something different from Raw and Smackdown, those fans now have that option in AEW, a real outside alternative. Meanwhile, NXT has failed to create new stars for several years now and has been stuck in a creative rut. Since becoming a two hour show on national television, the brand has suffered from many of the same ills that have plagued Raw and Smackdown.
The WWE Performance Center is an expensive endeavor that has failed to produce many true stars from scratch. McMahon’s new philosophy is apparently to focus on wrestlers under 30 who are more inexperienced and who the company can groom. The problem is they don’t have a successful track record of doing this. Most of the NXT-to-WWE success stories have been wrestlers who had wrestled for years on the independent scene before being signed to WWE; they weren’t raw prospects who walked into the door in Orlando and were trained from the ground up.
The betting money is NXT becomes something closer to FCW than the NXT of a couple of years ago. I’ve seen some throw out OVW references, but OVW was more of an independently run situation that happened to be affiliated with WWE. There was more creative freedom and outside influence there – which was a positive. NXT and the WWE Performance Center will always have more oversight from the powers that be (heck, they have live streams of what is happening in Orlando in the offices in Stamford!).
This brings me to my next point…
4. Adam Cole needs to walk
The status of Adam Cole has been on everyone’s mind as WWE apparently didn’t realize (!) that his contract ended earlier this summer. They then got him to agree to an extension to work through SummerSlam weekend. WWE is apparently so worried about losing Cole that he had a special meeting with Vince McMahon at Smackdown on Friday night. Later that night, Cole’s good friend Bobby Fish was released by WWE. That’s sure an odd negotiating strategy.
If I’m Cole, there’s no reason to stay at WWE. We’ve seen how NXT call-ups have been treated recently (Kross), and there’s no reason to think his story would be any different. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that his main roster career would mimic Finn Balor’s pretty closely. He might have a decent push at the start, especially after these contract negotiations, but would pretty quickly become some slotted firmly into the mid-card despite selling a ton of merch, being one of the best all around performers on TV, and getting great live pops. Why? Because he doesn’t fit the (antiquated) stereotype of what McMahon believes a wrestler should look like. Yes, I’m aware they are portraying Balor as “in the mix” on TV right now (even though a babyface John Cena basically walked right over him), but those opportunities and that kind of focus have been few and far between over the last several years.
Cole is a great talent, one of the best in the company, but if he believes his best days are ahead of him, he should look to AEW for some fresh match-ups and the star treatment that he truly deserves. There’s zero doubt in my mind that his run there would be much better than anything booked for him on the WWE’s main roster right now. They could have (should have) brought him up years ago and didn’t. That tells you everything you need to know.
The only rationale I could see for re-signing with WWE would be if they allowed him to sign a one year deal where the company could prove that they’re serious about pushing him. If he signs long-term, forget about it. His role will ultimately be to put over wrestlers larger in stature who are going become the focus in NXT – and Adam Cole deserves way better than that.
Make no mistake about it, whatever new big money deal that might be offered to Cole would be more about WWE’s fear of him going to AEW than it would be about their own belief in him as a star moving forward. If they truly believe that he is a major star in the making, the company would have been pushing him as such long ago on the main roster. He’s a 13 year veteran of the wrestling industry, not some rookie.
5. Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair were the highlight of WrestleMania and could achieve the same distinction at SummerSlam
I’ll be honest, I’m not trying to be negative on WWE every week here. But the company is in a massive rut right now and the weekly television is a slog to get through. The biggest matches they are pushing for SummerSlam feel uninspired to me, at best. That’s certainly the case with Bobby Lashley vs. Goldberg – a match that nobody seems to really care about. John Cena vs. Roman Reigns also seems lackluster right now in terms of build, even though as a pure spectacle, it should be good.
However, Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair is the planned match that I am looking forward to the most right now. Their match at WrestleMania 37 was the best bout of the weekend, and I have no reason to think they won’t repeat and have another great one in Las Vegas. While we have seen the two wrestle in a big match already this year, it’s been so long that it doesn’t feel as repetitive as what’s going on over on Raw where Charlotte and Rhea have been going back and forth literally for months (and they’ve given us little reason to take Nikki seriously in that match).
Where the eventual Smackdown Women’s Champion goes after this feud is beyond me as there is a major depth issue in the women’s divisions of both brands. How else do you explain Zelina Vega, despite not having won a match since returning, getting a chance to participate in a number one contendership match?
But for one night anyway, Banks and Belair should shine once again.
CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN HERE: DROSTE: Five thoughts on the Week in Wrestling – Bray Wyatt, NXT falls out of favor with Vince, Hangman Page, Punk
(Ryan Droste has been covering the wrestling industry for over 20 years. You can hear him each and every week on the Top Rope Nation podcast, available on Apple, Spotify, and YouTube. Follow him on Twitter @ryandroste.)