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Yet another wild week in the wrestling world has wrapped. What a last month it has been. This week featured AEW’s biggest event in their short history and WWE’s second biggest PPV of the year (and most attended since the pandemic began in March 2020).
Let’s get to five thoughts on what we’ve seen in the world of professional wrestling over the last seven days.
1. C.M. Punk garnered one of the best reactions in the history of the business
There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said, but C.M. Punk’s arrival in AEW on Friday night at the United Center shook up the future of the industry in more ways than one. It also shook the foundations of the building itself. From the moment the opening licks of “Cult of Personality” hit, it was evident that we’ve heard very few reactions on this level in the history of professional wrestling.
The reaction of the hometown faithful to Punk’s return was so loud that it made it hard to hear the song at times. When it comes to big returns, the only sustained crowd response I can think of that even comes close to rivaling this is Flair’s return to WCW Nitro in September 1998. I’m sure there are others (and please let me know in the comments what you think), but that night in Greenville was the first to come to my mind.
2. Darby Allin has to be feeling a lot of pride (and rightfully so)
Punk is going to have a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing who he wants to work with in AEW. The fact that he chose Darby Allin for his first match in over seven years speaks volumes. If you’re Allin, you’ve got to puff out your chest a little bit and feel pretty confident with your standing in the company.
Allin has arguably been the best “homegrown” star in the men’s division since the birth of AEW, and this move should solidify him as a true main eventer moving forward, regardless of the outcome of the match at All Out on September 5th. If working with Sting wasn’t enough to make you take notice of Allin’s potential superstardom, being hand picked by Punk (and company) for this massive spot should be. It reminds of Bret Hart returning to the WWF, albeit after a much shorter hiatus, and choosing the rising Steve Austin as his opponent. Allin is going to walk out of this a much bigger star than he was already set to become.
3. Becky Lynch’s return didn’t go over as well as hoped for
It’s mind-boggling to think that wrestling fans waited over a year for the return of Becky Lynch, and when it finally happened, a large percentage of them were left disappointed in how it played out. After Sasha Banks was pulled from her match with Bianca Belair at SummerSlam due to not being cleared to compete, Lynch was brought out as a surprise opponent. In a babyface vs. babyface match that the two women said was going to “blow the roof off” of Allegiant Stadium, we instead got Lynch beating the champion for her title in a “match” that was reminiscent of Brock Lesnar defeating Kofi Kingston during the first episode of SmackDown on FOX. That is not a good thing. Lynch won in just 27 seconds, and they better be careful how this plays out because there’s a chance that she could even face some backlash from fans as a result.
This kind of squash match works when you are doing a babyface vs. a heel, but with this set of characters, it made absolutely no sense after building up Belair as one of the few new top stars in the women’s division in recent years. Many are saying “let it play out,” and I’m sure the story will be that Belair wasn’t prepared for this match, but the booking in WWE over the last several years gives me no confidence that Belair will walk away from this unscathed. I’m hoping against all prior evidence that she will.
4. Seth Rollins and Edge helped save the show
After the stunning defeat of Belair, SummerSlam 2021 was quickly trending downhill. Drew McIntyre defeated Jinder Mahal in a forgettable outing that the crowd seemed to be tuned out of, and Charlotte Flair predictably won the Raw Women’s Championship yet again in a good match but one that didn’t capture the crowd as much as you’d hope. At this point, the show really could have lost the audience for good – especially with 54 year old Bill Goldberg about to challenge for the WWE title in a match absolutely nobody seemed to want to see (Goldberg, the babyface, was boo’ed loudly for those keeping score at home).
Enter Rollins and Edge. Edge had one of the coolest entrances in recent memory by recreating his days with The Brood from the late 1990s, complete with the old music and elevating through fire. Rollins had his working boots on as well and these two awakened the crowd that had largely been tuned out since Belair’s bizarre loss.
It’s a testament to both of these men that they went out there and turned around the narrative of the event. The match was an absolute banger.
5. Brock is back, and Cena and Reigns absolutely delivered
Roman Reigns proved once again that he is the best thing going in WWE on Saturday night at SummerSlam, and John Cena proved that he can still go with the best of them.
This match lived up to the expectations and then some. The crowd was into it from bell to bell, and Cena put over Reigns strong by getting pinned after two Superman punches and a Spear. The action throughout was good and dramatic, especially the closing few minutes. There were some extremely close kickouts by Reigns where you really bought Cena possibly walking out with the title, especially after Cena hit an AA out of the corner at one point. Just really great stuff.
After Reigns retained, Brock Lesnar made his return and the crowd went nuts. With Brock having been out for nearly a year and a half, he seemed fresh (complete with a new look – that hair style made me think Brock the Viking Warrior?). The crowd popped for the faceoff between Brock, and Roman, but color me skeptical since WWE audiences have revolted to big matches between the two before, including most famously at WrestleMania 34 (I was there and it stunk).
This time out, Roman’s character work is more in line with what the audiences want to see from him instead of a forced babyface push, and Brock’s extended absence makes him more appealing as well. If they script the next several weeks of television well, this could end up being the match between the two that they always hoped for – at least in terms of getting the crowd response they want. Their match at WrestleMania 31 was all kinds of awesome.
We’ll see how things play out over the next seven days and I’ll check back in with you all then.
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.