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Can Johnny Gargano be WWE’s Daniel Bryan 2.0?

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The date was January 27th. The stage was NXT TakeOver Philadelphia. Aleister Black had just had his hand raised after a captivating Extreme Rules match against Adam Cole. The two men essentially said ‘follow that’ and the WWE Universe agreed. The following match was scheduled to be Johnny Gargano trying to prize away the NXT Championship from Andrade Almas in the main event, and we all feared the worst… you want the main event to be the best match on the card but on paper this seemed somewhat… uninspiring. How could it possibly follow such a frantic and entertaining spot-fest? With great ease apparently! The match we were treated to was hands down one of the best matches of the last 10 years in any wrestling promotion.

The match itself was impossible to take your eyes off, with non stop heart racing action, more near falls than my nerves could take, outside interference and even a post match ambush keeping us on the edge of our seats. But what really made the match special wasn’t what happened in the ring, it was how much everyone in attendance and watching at home was desperately rooting for Gargano. I can’t remember the last time I found myself so invested in a match and actually cared about the guys involved. There is no doubt in my mind that with the right booking he can quite easily and effectively become Daniel Bryan 2.0, maybe even surpassing the bearded one’s accomplishments.


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When the referee’s hand hit the mat for the third and final time, the entire arena and everybody watching was stunned into silence. Gargano had put on one of the bravest, most believable and ultimately heart-breaking performances in recent memory which more than deserved to land him the title. Hell even Dave Meltzer, so famously anti-WWE, gave it his fabled 5 star rating, which had become somewhat of a mythical creature talked about in legends, not seen in the WWE since 2011. You have to give a huge amount of credit to Almas too, its safe to say he surprised everyone with his in ring performance, but it was Gargano who really told the story during the match. NXT managed to once again do something sorely lacking on the main roster shows… great storytelling and creative booking.

It’s very easy to see why fans clamour for Gargano to succeed in the business. He’s charismatic, he can cut a good and believable promo, his in-ring ability is up there with the best as he regularly pulls off unique and innovative moves to leave us breathless. He is very much what the majority of WWE fans see in themselves, an everyman wrestler who has scratched and clawed for every opportunity despite being told he isn’t good enough. He is relatable. He isn’t big in stature or physique, he isn’t the kind of guy you would find on the cover of magazines and he doesn’t need a flashy gimmick or entrance to get himself over.. Week in and week out he leaves it all in the ring. The big question which  remains is whether or not the trigger will finally be pulled on an NXT Championship reign before he steps up to RAW or SDLive. We know he will almost certainly be feuding with his former tag team partner turned bitter enemy Tomasso Ciampa in the near future which will undoubtedly be a captivating rivalry regardless of championship gold being involved… but then what? Where will he go from there?

The main roster shows have desperately been lacking something since Bryan’s heart-breaking early retirement. Bryan was a universally loved babyface, and as much as great faces will come and go none of them could even dream of reaching the heights that he did. The similarities between the two ultimate underdogs are almost endless, so it is more than mere coincidence that the crowd erupted into Bryan’s iconic YES! chant following yet another Gargano near fall against Almas. The real kick in the teeth for Bryan was that he wasn’t actually due to be part of the title scene at that time, he was never more than a mid carder in the companies eyes and it was only the WWE Universe who convinced the company to take a chance on ol’ goatface. What happened afterwards? WWE struck 24 carat gold with merchandise sales, unearthed a chant which will last a lifetime, created the ultimate WrestleMania moment and finally… FINALLY listened to the best creative minds in professional wrestling and made them feel like they mattered… the fans.

WWE simply cannot afford to make the same mistake twice. I mean sure, the company is in the best financial shape it has seen in a good few years, but is it really worth taking the risk again? The fans for years now have made their feelings very clear towards WWE for consistently pushing the likes of Roman Reigns, John Cena and Batista, and it almost always ends with shows and PPV’s going off air to a chorus of boo’s. A push for Gargano would go a long way towards making up for some ‘questionable’ booking choices, most notably the utterly mind boggling championship reign of Jinder Mahal which lasted roughly 6 months too long. There is no doubt that Gargano is more than ready for his shot at the big leagues in terms of his talent and persona, the worrying thing is how poorly NXT talent has been utilized in the last couple of years.

Finn Balor is the prime example. His call up was somewhat of a revelation in WWE, the amazing indy guy being given a much deserved shot, and he was immediately pushed to the moon by becoming the first ever Universal Champion, but one bad injury later and he has found himself lingering around the mid card only recently being pushed back into the fray. The Vaudevillains were used poorly and jobbed out most weeks. Enzo & Cass split up too soon. American Alpha a similar story although at least they captured gold along the way. The Ascension find themselves playing a comedy role. Baron Corbin and Nia Jax both called up way too soon and proved it in the ring. Tye Dillinger was called up while he was at peak popularity but you can barely even call him a jobber at this point on SDLive. The WWE Universe simply wouldn’t forgive the company if this happened with Gargano and we would likely see a similar backlash to what we have seen recently with Roman Reigns.

This is where Gargano can come in and break the mould. He is ready right now to be the next Daniel Bryan. He hasn’t just used NXT to improve or hone his skills, he has become the finished article in a very short time. He can walk onto either show as a white-hot babyface without needing to prove himself to anyone. Although we have seen this type of babyface before, he has achieved it in such a natural and organic way when compared to someone like Roman Reigns. Sure, Roman has come a long way and is a much better wrestler than people give him credit for but the issue with him is we know how desperately WWE want us to like him and accept him as our champion. The trouble for him is he didn’t establish himself as a credible singles competitor first, he literally had 3 televised matches in NXT before becoming the muscle of the Shield. While The Shield were great fun, we all knew that Seth Rollins was the most talented of the trio and was main event bound, with Dean Ambrose destined to be a great mid card champion. But they didn’t look like your typical steroid loving WWE big guy, so although they had their time to shine and did it very well they were never going to be mainstay champions in the way that Roman has been forced to be. That doesn’t need to be done with Gargano… he already is our champion.

I grew up as a huge fan of The Rock and then in later years John Cena. So why is it that when Rocky returns every now and then I feel nauseous? Why is it that I can’t stand the guys I used to love? Because fantastic wrestlers and charismatic entertainers were, and still are, being held down to add another zero to WWE’s bank balance and give part timers a bit of cash when they’re not busy in Hollywood. WWE need to stop treating us like idiots, you can throw any number of faces at us and call them the top guy or the face of the company, but we will only sit by and ride the nostalgia train for so long. The Rock, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold, John Cena and now Roman Reigns have all become victims of their own success, whereas guys like Bryan and Gargano have put the work in and travelled the world on the Indy scene to EARN their spots… if Bryan was still medically capable of wrestling in WWE today the fans would not have turned on him even if he became a 10 time champion because it was never handed to him.

As much as Roman has certainly improved both in ring and on the mic, the fact remains that he finds himself in an untouchable position because of his family ties and the top brass’ fixation on big guys. He was given a slap on the wrist for violating the wellness policy where most guys would have been fired for less. Jinder Mahal was thrust into the limelight and, quite rightly, questions were immediately raised about his sudden crazy body transformation. Was he investigated? Was he heck! He was given a championship reign because WWE wanted to crack the Indian market. Money makes the world go round, I get that, and WWE is a business at the end of the day which needs to make money to survive. But for every 1 new Indian fan they gained, just think how many fans they alienated by again giving someone undeserving an opportunity despite visible fan protest. Someone like Gargano would get so many eyes on the company and keep existing ones interested rather than them switching to Ring of Honor or New japan Pro Wrestling where they can see those smaller guys putting on phenomenal, exciting matches. At the end of the day we want entertainment for our money, not a muscly freak who can barely string two words together.

Johnny Gargano can be every bit of what Daniel Bryan was, and take it to a whole new level as long as WWE wake up and see what they have before it’s too late. It just takes a change in mindset from an incredibly stubborn Vince McMahon and an undying determination from the WWE Universe to get behind their guy. Every single week, Mauro Ranello gushes about how NXT is the place to be and tells us that ‘this is what the black and gold brand is all about’.

Hopefully it is only a matter of time before either RAW or SDLive show us that they are all about the fans, the entertainment and the wrestling… Johnny Wrestling.


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Chairshot Classic: Andrew’s 2019 AEW Double or Nothing Ratings & Analysis

Take a look back at AEW’s first PPV effort, the 2019 Double Or Nothing in Andrew’s Retro Ratings and Analysis!

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AEW Double Or Nothing 2019AEW Double Or Nothing 2019

Take a look back at AEW’s first PPV effort, the 2019 Double Or Nothing in Andrew’s Retro Ratings and Analysis!

With AEW Double Or Nothing–the 2022 edition–on the horizon, enjoy this trip down memory lane as Andrew Balaz reviewed the inaugural Las Vegas AEW pay-per-view…spectacular?

Well this is history boys and girls. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s the first show of the IWC’s favorite t-shirt company. What becomes of Hangman since he’s injured and PAC cancelled? What surprises will we get?

We all sit here with bated breath. Some want it to fail, many want it to succeed. Me? I just want it to not suck.

Let’s see what we got!

Ratings:

  • Casino Battle Royal: Hangman Page wins @10:45 – **
  • Sammy Guevara vs Kip Sabian: Sabian wins Argentine Facebuster @9:55 – ***
  • So Cal Uncensored vs Strong Hearts: SCU wins via Best Meltzer Ever @14:00 – *** 1/2
  • Britt Baker vs Nyla Rose vs Kylie Rae vs Awesome Kong: Britt Bakers wins via Kneecap Brainbuster @11:05 – ***
  • Best Friends vs Angelico & Jack Evans: Best Friends win via Strong Zero @12:55 – ** 1/2
  • Riho, Hikaru Shida &  Ryo Mizunami vs Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki & Emi Sakura: Hikaru wins via Three Count @13:10 – *** 1/4
  • Dustin Rhodes vs Cody Rhodes: Cody wins via Crossroads @22:35 – *****
  • AAA Tag Team Championship: The Young Bucks (c) vs Lucha Brothers: Bucks retain via Meltzer Driver @25:00 – *****
  • Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho: Jericho wins via Judas Effect @23:50 – **** 1/4

Analysis:

This was definitely a mess. A few spots, a bunch of messy spots and just generally awkward moments. Flying Brian Jr had a few decent spots, Luchasaurus looked good and Orange Cassidy is awful. Hangman being the 21st entrant made a lot of sense, but probably already upset a few people since it wasn’t CM Punk or Jon Moxley. Of course Page won. He can fight with a bum leg, cause he has three of them. So yeah, not an awful match, but it had a lot of issues.

Sabian looked tremendous in this match. Guevara definitely did too much. Shooting Star onto Sabian draped over the outside barricade, a bad double Moonsault and standing Shoot Star hurt the match a little. But Sabian’s technically proficient, charismatic and can hang in the air a bit too. So Sabian was the star here. Solid match.

Well now, this was great. Strong Hearts trio pulled off some great fluid offense and SCU did fantastic. This was just a great match, I can’t really accurately describe more than great match. Best Meltzer Ever is a little dumb when it comes to names, but damn was this a good match.

So Brandi comes out in her gear to swerve us that she’s adding herself to the match, but instead she adds Awesome Kong! So the Triple Threat turns into a Fatal 4 Way and it’s not bad. A lot of the early portion is focused on taking out Kong, then Nyla becomes the target. Britt and Kylie are the ones left in the ring after the collateral damage. Kylie looks to be firing up for a finish, but Britt catches her in a Kneecap Brainbuster (Adam Cole’s Last Shot in ROH).

Excessive spots, excessive near falls, I knew to expect it to a degree with these four, but that doesn’t make it better. This was definitely an ‘Indie style” match, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. There was a lights out attack on both teams from…some team, with masked minions. The “Who Are You” chant kicks up and commentary doesn’t lend any information. So that’s really not helpful.

Everyone got their stuff in, we got to see a lot of personality from the different women and the action was solid. I also appreciated Emi Sakura trying to rally momentum doing We Will Rock You stomps (since she was dressed as Freddy Mercury). Save for the big mess up with the bell ringer calling the end of the match when the referee obviously held up 2 and said 2, just messed up the flow and gave away the finish since Hikaru’s music played. Not bad, just the ending did kind of take the air out of a pretty good match.

Wow. Dustin and Cody brought it, Dustin bladed pretty deep, I think even Dusty would’ve blushed. New moves from Dustin like the Misawa style Apron Senton, a Code Red and a few classics. The blood, the desire to keep fighting, this was everything wrestling should be. It made sense for Cody to win the match of course, but wow after the match was a beautiful moment. Also call of the night might have to go to Excalibur when Cody hit a Pump Kick aka Bicycle Kick and you hear him say something like ” He hit him with a BICYCLE”.  In a huge homage to Dustin and Dusty’s Heart to Heart promo, Cody tells Dustin he can’t retire, because he needs a partner. He doesn’t just need a partner, he needs his big brother. This was a great way cap off such a hard hitting personal match. Wow.

Belt reveal with a few extra curricular and Bret Hart. Much like Bret Hart, the belt doesn’t do anything for me. It looks a lot like Big Gold, but it’s so ostentatious it’s hard to love it. Just too shimmery or whatever. It’s not bad, but I in no way love the belt.

I’m very happy there was the unveiling ceremony between the Rhodes match and this one. Cause this was a great match and moving it out too quick could’ve hurt the crowd immersion. Great tandem moves, a decent thread of the ring rust playing a part against the Young Bucks early on and just generally great spots. There definitely was a lot of stuff, big spots and it was “spot monkey” style, but it all worked. The Lucha Brothers pulled out crazy moves to try and get the AAA belts back and the Bucks were trying to prove they still had it with most of the year off. Just really really good.

Well now Jericho and Omega pick back up where they left off. Referee Paul Turner allows for a lot of out of the ring shenanigans. Jericho busts Omega open, tries to use a table as a shield, but Omega still throws himself at Jericho.Jericho focuses on Omega’s face with the Triangle Dropkick, a Lionsault went high and this was pretty damn solid. A few missteps and Jericho not countering the first One Winged Angel was car crash worthy, but aside from that, this was nice. Multiple Codebreakers followed by the new Judas Effect, leave Omega laying for the 1, 2, 3.

Jericho says AEW is for him not for fans, and he deserves a thank you. When the crowd pops, Jericho thinks it’s for him, but Jon Moxley makes his debut through the crowd! Almost as if it were a reference to Lex Luger showing up on the first Nitro, it looks like Jericho basically says “You don’t work here”. Dirty Deeds to Jericho, Dirty Deeds to referee Paul Turner and Omega manages a burst of energy to brawl for a little bit. They end up on the poker chips, Moxley hits Dirty Deeds and then just dumps him off, onto some other stage item.

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Well damn, I was skeptical since All In didn’t rate as highly for me as other fans, but this was great. Aside from a few personal gripes, and not really enjoying the cluster that was the Battle Royal, this was one of the better shows of the year thus far. Good surprises like Awesome Kong, Bret Hart and Jon Moxley. Jericho winning the main event breaks up The Elite getting the clean sweep, so that shows it’s not as predictable as All In.

Oh and yes, I can’t express how good the Rhodes match was. The match itself, the story it told, the promo after, everything was just beautiful. That is my number 1 match of the year personally, cause it was just too damn poignant.

Good job AEW. Great show, and the symbolic moment where Cody used the sledgehammer to break the replica throne Triple H used for his WrestleMania 22 entrance. It was awesome.


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News From Cook’s Corner 5.16.22: Headbutting Fools Since 2022

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Hi, hello & welcome to News From Cook’s Corner! Steve Cook here with you for the first one of these in quite some time. There’s been a lot going on, most of which I don’t plan on discussing live & in public if you will. Some stuff to deal with, and enough of it is dealt with that I can get back to doing my thing. Still some more stuff to deal with, but writing helps.

Another thing that helps? There’s finally enough wrestling news going on for me to write up one of these things. Let’s get to it.

Roman Going Part-Time?

Last weekend, Roman Reigns made some comments after a WWE live event in Trenton, NJ that made ears perk up. After his match, he talked about how it might be his last time appearing in Trenton, and that he was going through a new phase in life. Then after his match teaming with the Usos at WrestleMania Backlash, Reigns hinted that it might be the last time they all team together. Naturally, this led to everybody jumping to all sorts of conclusions. Some thought he was retiring. Others thought it was a new Paul Heyman-inspired worked shoot storyline, and nothing would really change.

As usual, the truth ended up somewhere in the middle. Reigns & WWE came to a new agreement, one that involves Reigns working far fewer dates than he has been. If you’ve been watching this stuff as long as I have, you know this was the most likely scenario. It’s the natural progression of top WWE Superstars. Once they reach a certain height of stardom, they’re not going to be working as often. Reigns has made no secret of his desire to get into acting, and Nick Khan has made no secret of WWE’s desire to help Reigns in that endeavor. WWE has done right by Reigns, and Reigns has had his part in helping the company achieve record-setting profits.

Reigns will still be part of WWE’s major events. He was pulled from advertising for many house shows, but is still advertised for Money in the Bank, SummerSlam & Clash at the Castle in Wales. He was on the most recent episode of SmackDown as well, though I think we can assume he won’t be wrestling on that show anytime soon. Reigns’ last match on SmackDown was back on December 3, 2021, when he put an unconscious Sami Zayn in a choke to win in a matter of seconds. He can do his lengthy entrance, talk after Paul Heyman and call it a night. Eventually, we won’t get that quite as often.

WWE will be looking to elevate somebody into Roman’s spot sooner rather than later. As things stand, there isn’t really anybody on the roster on Roman Reigns’ level. I’m more positive than most probably are on the idea of WWE elevating somebody to Reigns’ level…if Reigns’ career has proven anything, it’s that Vince McMahon won’t give up on a guy if he 100% believes in him. How many times could Reigns have been sent down the card due to subpar fan reaction? Vince never did, he was going to make the darn thing work.

There’s also the pesky little thing of Roman being the WWE Universal Champion. He could drop it at one of those summer stadium shows, or he could hold onto it until he breaks Bruno Sammartino’s record of 2,803 days. We know they’re not going to elevate the Intercontinental & United States Championships, those things are never on Peacock and barely ever on television. I have to go along with Greg DeMarco’s idea of creating Raw & SmackDown men’s championships. The men would match the women then, and WWE could also sell new title belts. Reigns could still have the historical championship to defend once in awhile.

MJF: The story you’ll get tired of long before 2024

I don’t know if you’ve heard this or not, but MJF’s contract with AEW expires in 2024. Fightful was sure to let us know this week that he’s unhappy with his current status. I’m sure they believe their sources and are happy with themselves, but I have to wonder based off of one simple thing:

MJF is always working.

That’s the thing old heads like me love about him. This kid is always working that gimmick. He’s always the biggest asshole on the planet, except on Long Island, where he’s still an asshole but accepted by his peers. I like that about him, but at the same time I realize that nothing he puts out there is legitimate. People wonder why wrestling news sources always get things wrong, and the reason is much simpler than they think: Wrestlers lie. Especially wrestlers as good at their job as MJF.

So I hate to be the bearer of bad news to my fellow IWC folks that think they have super insider knowledge, but the man is always working an angle. As long as they’re ok with being used by him, it’ll be ok.

Maybe MJF jumps to WWE in 2024. I have a tough time believing they’ll push somebody of his body type as a top guy, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe WWE pushes MJF into acting and everybody involved lives happily ever after. Can’t rule that out. Until then, if I was MJF’s current employer and had him locked in until 2024 and he was putting stuff out there about how he wanted to jump ship, I would have Wardlow powerbomb him into the sun. Just squash the shit out of him until he got the message. If he didn’t get the message? That would be fine. I’d just feed him to everybody I could until his contract expired.

I doubt Tony Khan would be that petty. Then again, some of his social media activity indicates the opposite. Who knows?

Ric Flair Returning To The Ring?

On one hand, the idea of 73 year old Ric Flair returning to the ring seems completely insane. We’re talking about somebody that barely avoided death a few years back, who hasn’t wrestled since 2011, and that promoters started avoiding for some time after the Dark Side of the Ring episode about the Plane Ride From Hell aired.

On the other hand, it’s not like Ric Flair hasn’t gone against the grain before. He’s also stated that he never wanted to retire from wrestling, and would be happy if he died in the ring. So when you think about it, it’s not surprising at all that Flair would be pursuing a return to the ring. The question is who would go along with such a thing, and if everything could fall in line for it to happen. Dave Meltzer says the current plan is for Flair to team with FTR against the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express & “someone”. Not sure who would be hosting such a thing, though the Big Time Wrestling promotion that just booked Mick Foley to manage FTR for a match comes to mind. I could also see GCW being all over something like this.

It’s not like septuagenarians have never wrestled before. Most of your all-time legends were still kicking around years after people told them not to wrestle. Lou Thesz had his last match at the age of 74. Buddy Rogers almost had a match with Buddy Landell at 71 before the promotion that booked it closed. Jerry Lawler is 72 and still doing his thing on the indies. Terry Funk’s most recent match was at 73. Jimmy Valiant was 77 for his retirement match. Heck, Canek is on the verge of 70 and just had a passable match with Psycho Clown at TripleMania. That being said, most of them didn’t have Flair’s medical history. Lawler had a heart attack, but he kicked out of it and also had the good fortune to not have addiction issues.

I will say that it would be a good thing for Flair if he focused his energy on getting into ringshape instead of indulging some of his demons. I see the clips of him working out with Jay Lethal and think that’s a better usage of his time than what he’d be doing otherwise. So I’m all for Ric Flair training for a comeback. It’s his life, after all. Who are we to tell him what to do?

Hot Take: Fans Should Not Headbutt Wrestlers

We’ve all heard the stories about rambunctious crowds in the good ol’ days. Back when men were men, women were women & the sheep were scared, evil pro wrestlers used to be able to rile fans up to the point where they would need to fight their way backstage. We haven’t seen it as much since the territory days ended, but there’s still occasions where fans’ suspension of disbelief leads to them going after the wrestlers.

One of them happened this past weekend in Augusta, Georgia. Wrestler Joe Black pulled the ultimate heel move: knocking somebody’s hat off. The cad! The fan, whose punk card had been pulled in front of God & everybody, did what all of us would have done in that instance.

That’s right, he delivered a headbutt!

I must say, this is the first time I’ve seen a fan headbutt a wrestler. Back in the old days they had knives with them. It’s usually tougher to get weapons into a wrestling venue these days, so ol’ boy had to go a different route. Also, I’m pretty sure wrestlers didn’t knock hats off of fans’ heads back in the day, as they were trying to avoid getting knived.

Should Joe Black have knocked the hat off of Scooter’s head? Probably not. I would prefer that wrestlers not touch fans except for a high five, and even that’s questionable these days. On the other hand…dude, you’re a fan. It’s fun to get wrapped up in this stuff, but there’s never a reason you should be looking to throw hands with any wrestler.

If you’re going to attend a wrestling show soon, don’t be this guy. A simple request from your favorite from back in the day.

Thanks for reading! I won’t make any promises about when the next one of these things will be, but it should be sooner than three months. Until then, keep your stick on the ice.


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