Monday, August 27, 2018

ALL IN: the most significant wrestling event in the last 15 years

A lot of words have already been written about ALL IN, the Young Bucks and Cody-produced mega-show. It sold an unprecedented 10,000+ tickets, unheard of for an indie show up until this point in history. It continues Nick, Matt and Cody's slow change of how wrestling storytelling works. And its card has been named incredibly underwhelming by a ton of critics.

I'm not going to break down the card too much, because I am not sure I will even be watching the show live on the 1st as I have a bunch of other Labor Day weekend plans. But all the critics that have ran down the card have missed the point. ALL IN sold out its entire ticket base without a single match announced. Just the roster of talent managed to do that. Being the Elite, the weekly show the Young Bucks produce every week, scores over 200,000 views every week from a subcriber list of approximately the same size. All it took was one twentieth of that base to make this event a rousing success.

Of course, those same people might decry that the same feat can't be repeated if ALL IN doesn't produce the biggest card possible. This of course ignores the fact that ROH and NJPW have just repeated the over 10,000 number for yet another show without a single announced talent. That show will come Wrestlemania weekend and will be at a venue that served as a WWE stronghold for four decades, Madison Square Garden. Times are changing, folks.

I question how many of these critics actually pay that much attention to the work the Young Bucks have put into the build on their weekly show. It always seemed likely the card would be built around matches for every member of the show's cast. Hence Cody fighting Nick Aldis for the NWA title, Hangman Page fighting Joey Janela, Marty Scurll getting a match against former IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, the Young Bucks and Kota Ibushi teaming to take on a lucha trio consisting of Bandido, Rey Mysterio and Rey Fenix, and of course the once in a life time bout between Penta El Zero Miedo and Kenny Omega. They even built a storyline to give Stephen Amell his first singles match ever against a true ring general, Christopher Daniels. Jay Lethal has become a Being the Elite regular of late as well, so his ROH title defense doesn't come as a surprise, nor does the pre-show appearance of ROH stalwarts, the Briscoe Brothers. They built the show around people they know having battles with people fans want to see. And that's just what they're delivering, which is why all the talk of a lackluster card makes little sense.

My pick for match of the night on September 1st.
The measure of success for ALL IN was accomplished way back in July when they sold the show out. By any stretch of the imagination, it has become an important point in the history of the business. It drew interest from Chicago area cable station WGN America, and now has a network broadcast preshow, something no other wrestling company has been able to boast since Heat left Spike TV in 2005. It already looks capable of shattering independent wrestling pay-per-view records as well and ROH has already talked about an uptick in new subscribers for their own streaming channel, which will also air the event.

The show is a success by any metric before a single wrestler steps into the ring at the Sears Centre. Cody and the Young Bucks took a huge gamble, one that looks to pay off in major dividends come September 1st. And they have likely created the possibility of an independent super show for years ahead.

Independent wrestling has never been stronger in the United States. One way or the other, every fan that travels to a bingo hall or community center or armory to see their favorite stars needs to realize what this means for the industry they love enough to support on the smallest level. The sport of kings has a future even without WWE. And we should all be proud of that.

Monday, August 20, 2018

A few random thoughts and reactions to the action and hijinks of SummerSlam weekend

I'm going to break this one into a few points as I look back at my personal thoughts on SummerSlam weekend, especially what worked and didn't.
Ronda Rousey: WWE's most over champion! Image credit:

  • The NXT Tag Team title opener was a solid match, but it really threw too much out there early in the night. Big false finishes and crazy spots are a staple of the black and gold brand, but its pace really felt like it wore out the crowd for parts of the next match.
  • EC3 feels completely out of place in NXT, mostly because he's a traditional WWE style wrestler in a world of indie super-gold. But his battle with Velveteen Dream really allowed him the chance to shine, even if Dream's victory seemed like an assured thing to me. With Dream effectively now an antihero face, he could easily step into the main event spot heading into Takeover: War Games against Ciampa while the Brits versus The Undisputed Era can highlight the card's namesake.
Velveteen Dream looked like a million bucks at Takeover. Image credit:
  • In the eight years since their last match way back at EVOLVE 6, Adam Cole and Ricochet have both grown immensely. But I'm also very glad that Cole no longer carries the North American title, as its felt like it had no value as party of the ongoing Undisputed Era wars. I hope for a quick rubber match and for Ricochet to go on and take on some new challengers, perhaps other EVOLVE alums like Keith Lee and Matt Riddle. 
  • I feel bad for the NXT women. The brand is so heavily focused on the top two women on the brand and then calling one of those people up every few months, that it hasn't really felt like they've been on solid footing since Bayley, Carmella, Nia Jax and Asuka came to the main roster. Kairi Sane isn't anywhere close to ready for a place on Raw or Smackdown where she would quickly lost (see Moon, Ember.) Shayna will be on the main roster by Survivor Series, and I honestly could see it happening in the next 36 hours. Kairi can start building new feuds with new stars, and wrestlers like Bianca Belair can finally get some time on a bigger stage.
  • The main event match between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano may be the worst of the three they've wrestled. By no means was it a bad match, but it felt very much like a do-over of their street fight. Topping the Unsanctioned Match isn't realistic, but I'm really bothered that this was the second straight pay-per-view to end with Gargano being a moron. 
  • The pre-show to SummerSlam was underwhelming. The opening encounter was a head-scratcher, Gulak and Alexander needed more time and The Revival were obviously not the team to knock off The B Team. But their matches worked really well for the live crowd, as they set up the crowd to be blown away with a complete reversal in the next contest.
  • Rollins and Ziggler went only twenty-two minutes, but this match was leaps and bounds above their Iron Man match. Place at the open of the card they could afford to go long and epic without worrying about worn out fans sitting on their hands or counting rather than watching what over-booked timed nonsense came at Extreme Rules. Both men seemed more at ease with a match not bogged down the clear hands of others, and they shined with Ambrose and McIntyre as key seconds.
  • The New Day did what they needed to do and made the Bludgeon Brothers look vulnerable. They also accomplished the same thing the majority of the Smackdown matches did: set up a clear place for a Hell in a Cell rematch between the two units. 
  • I have to give props to the folks on the Raw writing side for knowing when a squash match should be on the card no matter the place of their foes. Strowman beat Owens and Balor beat Corbin, both in under two minutes. The Monster Among Men and the Demon both needed strong victories to make their characters continue to work and they delivered that in spades.
The Demon rises! Image credit:
  • The booking of Charlotte and Becky Lynch seems fraught with peril. Charlotte is in heavy danger of becoming a female Roman Reigns, booed by the fans that are tired of the title basically being her anointed place on the roster. The cheers heel Becky received made it clear that the fans aren't going to turn on her in favor of the Queen. 
  • Joe and Styles and Miz and Bryan should not have been so close on the card. Both matches were far too similar in their style to work as well as they could individually. They did both succeed at making it clear these feuds are far from over, and like the New Day and Bludgeon Brothers, seem perfect for a Hell in a Cell match. 
  • Jeff Hardy going eleven minutes surprised me, as it really does feel like he's on an exit path on Smackdown. My fingers are crossed that he's about to wrap up, perhaps with a feud with Orton, and move aside to give us the Rusev / Shinsuke Nakamura feud the US title deserves. 
  • The four Rs now rule supreme in the Raw women's and men's division as pretty much seemed clear from the get go. Ronda's domination of Alexa made me quite happy as I was terrified another Bella heel turn was in the works. The Reigns and Lesnar match was mercifully short, which put at the end of the card was the smartest move they could make. 
  • Strowman coming forward and making his attention clear pre-match made sense. His failing to have said match doesn't. For a man buried under a dozen ladders at Money in the Bank and won, nothing Lesnar did to him should have kept him down to not cash in on Roman. I wonder if we're not moving into an injury storyline to give him time away from the card, or if WWE just will continue with him not cashing in the case for no good reason. (It still bothers me that his character as presented didn't cash in during all of Lesnar's appearances over the lead up.) Now that it's been lined up that Strowman doesn't want to be an opportunist like so many previous holders, he has no reason to book the match wherever and whenever the hell he wants and should get it done sooner rather than later. 
I've seen several lackluster reviews of this year's event already. Honestly I'm a bit perplexed. WWE finally made a few smart decisions in booking while also giving fans a lot of what they wanted. Top to bottom the card either featured solid wrestling or solid storytelling, and in some cases, both. Raw is now ready to build some new feuds for all their titles while Smackdown has started three feuds that could be hot over the next several months. 

Of course, WWE's week to week booking could take them anywhere. But right now, color me intrigued heading into Hell in a Cell. Here's hoping WWE can continue smart booking and great storytelling in the weeks and months ahead.