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Rob: Kurt Angle Does Deserve Better

Kurt does deserve better–but it’s not what you think.

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Kurt Angle

Rob Bonnette takes a dive into the final match for Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 35 and the choice of Baron Corbin as his opposition.

So we’re less than two weeks away from WrestleMania 35 and as of right now Kurt Angle is still slated to face Baron Corbin in his farewell match on the show, which a lot of you are still upset about.  To a lot of you guys Kurt deserves a better opponent than Baron Corbin, because Baron Corbin sucks and all.  The name bandied around the most is John Cena, which makes sense given their history together and that Cena currently doesn’t have a match on the show right now.  But I’m here to say that’s not a good idea, and that you guys need to stop complaining about who gets to be Kurt’s last opponent.  Now a few weeks ago I was right on board with having Kurt go out against one of his old rivals – Cena, Rey Mysterio Jr, or even Shawn Michaels if he felt like it. But after seeing Kurt’s farewell tour the last few week and how he’s struggled against Apollo Crews, Chad Gable, and this week Samoa Joe I am firmly entrenched on the other side of the fence of that argument.  The last thing we need is to see Kurt Angle out there trying to have one last big match in front of all those people.  And he doesn’t need that, either.

But you’re right, Kurt does deserve better – better than to be hung out to dry in a fifteen minute match against someone desperately trying to carry him across the finish line in 2019.  Have you seen him the last few weeks?  he was gassed in five minutes with Chad Gable and this week he could barely get up and over for a few simple suplexes against Samoa Joe.  Joe, who people were saying looked past his prime last year against AJ Styles and is usually protected in multiman matches, had to carry Kurt on Monday night.  To his credit he did a good job and we actually got a decent match, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen if Kurt gets a ‘better opponent’ than Baron Corbin at WrestleMania.  Do you really want John Cena full of ring rust to have to struggle to get Kurt through 15 minutes of not being to turn his head, or help with simple bumps, or even lift him up for some of his basic stuff?  By the time you read this Kurt will have struggled through six to eight minutes of AJ dumbing down his own offense to look pedestrian enough for Kurt to get a sympathy win over him on Smackdown, and next if I heard right it’s gonna be Rey Jr.  Yeah, good luck.  I get the whole ‘Kurt’s greatest opponents tour’ thing and that’s fine, but that’s for TV segments and not the biggest show of the year where looking bad will just be embarrassing on a whole other level.  He does not deserve to go out like Willie Mays at the end of his career or Dan Marino not even able to drop back to hand the ball off to a running back.  If you really love the guy you’ll want him to go out looking as good as possible.

Which brings us to Baron Corbin.  Corbin is a real heel, someone who goes out to get booed and not to win snarky cool points from smart fans like Kevin Owens or who you refuse to boo because you relate to them too much, which is something that we could sure use more of today.  He’s a full time wrestler so he’s not rusty, and has enough energy and athleticism to help Kurt do things like…..pick him up for the Angle slam properly.  He also has a year long clip reel of back and forth with Kurt to play on the big screen for everyone who only comes to/watches WrestleMania every year.  As poetic as it would be for Cena to be Kurt’s last opponent since Kurt was his first, if the goal is to give Kurt some kind of victory lap/greatest hits moment in either victory or defeat then Corbin is the way to go in my opinion.  Now may we get some kind of moment between he and Cena afterwards?  Sure.  But a match?  Come on, you guys can’t be serious.  And look, I know that Ric Flair got Michaels to retire him and Shawn got the Undertaker….but go watch those matches, will you?  Ric at 58 years old was moving around better than Kurt is now.  I just watched that match and there were a few spots where Shawn clearly helped him but he mostly handled himself and could do his signature stuff without looking like he was dying in there.  Kurt is not there at all now.

In short, this sums up what I think is the right way to go for Angle at WrestleMania for his farewell match:

That’s it.  He can win or lose against Corbin and get all of that in.  Lose?  Yes.  Corbin can use the win to get more heat going forward and more material for his delusional heel promos.  Kurt can still put the ankle lock on him afterwards.  Very few people go out with a win.  Flair didn’t, Shawn didn’t, Austin didn’t, etc.  So don’t be surprised if Corbin gets the official victory and then Kurt gets his licks in after the bell.  Don’t rule it out.  But anyhow, back to the matter at hand.  Kurt can’t go out there like he could even a year ago.  If you want to see a final good performance from Kurt Angle at WrestleMania go watch the mixed tag match he and Ronda Rousey had against Triple H and Stephanie.  It was some great, fun sports entertainment and he did a good job there in his spots.  Don’t go pushing it and hoping for some throwback to 2006 with Cena or someone else more ‘on his level’.  Really, look at this will ya?

You want to see him fold up like that going over for an Attitude Adjustment from Cena, and then Cena have to roll off of him at the two count because Kurt probably wouldn’t be to kick out on his own afterwards?  Really?  Look, Kurt is an all time great and arguably the best amateur to pro wrestler ever.  But he’s real limited in what he can do, and should probably have done this two or three years ago if he was going to get a top level kind of match.  But now it’s time to send him off in a way that does not make him look bad, and that’s in a quick five minute deal with someone the crowd will have no problem booing against him.  That guy is Baron Corbin, as much as you think he sucks – which, if you do we got T-shirts here you can buy that say just that.


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Opinion

Three Important Things AEW Needs to Get Right in 2022

With 2021 coming to a close, Tommy decides to look ahead and throw out some ideas on AEW’s course of action in 2022.

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As the year winds down and wrestling fans begin to construct their obligatory 2022 Predictions List for Wrestling, All Elite Wrestling will certainly be amongst those ongoing discussions.  AEW has seen many drastic company changes in a short two-year timestamp, and while those changes have substantially improved the quality of the product in various categories (mainstream growth and finances to be specific), there are still a few major particulars that need to be given proper attention in the coming year.  The following list draws attention to some of those issues, although they are not exclusive to this list.

Roster Prioritization & Cutting Deadweight 

One incremental shift that we have seen in the last two years with AEW is their approach to their roster construction.  Whether discussing the accumulation of more household names like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, or Adam Cole or analyzing the rotation of whom is being featured in more prominent roles, it is hard to argue against the idea that as it stands in 2021, AEW has crafted its most successful and star-studded roster since 2019.  However, along with the accumulation of recognizable and established names, AEW has also immensely increased its roster size since 2019.  And while there are multiple benefits to be had out of the roster growth, AEW has struggled to gain consistent ground with being able to effectively feature a hand-selected number of talents over extended periods of time.  Moreover, it is impossible.

Hence, we have seen them try to make up for this by pairing and grouping talents together in clustered factions in order to give them more “camera time.”  It has proven to be more of a recipe for disaster than actual constructive booking, as it paints them in a corner of having too many people on screen at a given time; the end result is that no one is actually being effectively spotlighted.  And if AEW is going to restrain from adopting a “brand split” between Dynamite and Rampage, the solution really comes down to using an old-school territorial roster booking approach.  In other words, they should ideally select between ten and fifteen wrestlers to primarily feature on their premiere shows in a two or three month timeframe in the lead-ins to TV specials or PPVs; the end goal is to build up several key programs and strictly focus on those important programs with everything and everyone else taking a backseat temporarily.

Meanwhile, they can use AEW Dark and YouTube shows to begin eventual methodical character progression before rotating their roster to new programs.  The other attention to detail within this booking formula is to ensure that they are only allotting TV time to proficient, ready talent and cutting back on the spotlighting of heavily “green,” inexperienced talent.  This is not to say that they can not feature lesser experienced talent, but they should abstain from focusing too much time and attention to them until their ring ability, promo work, and character development are ready for primetime television.

To this day, AEW’s greatest dilemma with their current roster is generating a cohesive talent pool to makeup for their ongoing J.A.G. (Just Another Guy) Syndrome.  The cold, hard truth  is that, given the depth of the current talent pool, it is extraordinarily difficult to assemble a roster of one-hundred plus wrestlers without falling into a pit of having a handful of those J.A.G. names in some capacity.  The issue is that AEW has too many J.A.G.S. at the moment, and until they cutback on the deadweight talent and prioritize on a selected few talent to prominently feature each week, this problematic pattern will continue in 2022.

AEW needs to remember the cliche phrase, “When you try to spotlight everyone, you end up spotlighting no one.”

Market & Brand to Mainstream Audiences

It is evident that AEW’s target appeal is for their primary demographic (males 18-49).  However, if AEW is looking to grow and succeed as a company in the next five to ten years, there needs to be a concerted effort to branch out and reach new viewers and new audiences.  One issue that AEW continues to struggle with is their assumption that everyone that watches their product understands and follows the inner workings of all storylines and angles.  While the “internet, hardcore fan base” may be privy to the intricate details of most AEW stories and characters, it is a poor business model to assume that everyone knows what is going on at all times.  AEW has been extraordinary hit and miss with its consistent presentation of stories and characters to an expansive audience.

For example, hardcore fans that follow New Japan Pro Wrestling may be knowledgable as to whom Tomohiro Ishii is and the significance of his affiliation with Orange Cassidy and the Best Friends.  However, a casual AEW fan who does not follow New Japan may not understand the nooks and crannies of that alliance.  And when AEW coldly throws them out to work a tag match on television with no video pretape or package to provide back-story, it assumes that everyone already understands what is going on.  Regardless of whether or not it seems redundant, it is always better to dumb stories down for the audience by some off-chance that a fan needs context or reason behind a given match or story.

Attention to Formatting

Angles in professional wrestling have been a constant part of the art form since its inception, but something fans forget a lot of the time is that wrestling angles also used to be special and unique.  When you watch an episode of NWA World Championship Wrestling from 1985 on the TBS Superstation, you may get one “angle” on the entire show, whether it was an afterbirth heel beat down or a verbal confrontation at the interview booth.  The point being that, it would standout as something special on the show, while the rest of the program consists of squash matches and brief promos.  While fans like to reminisce about the greatness of the Attitude Era period of wrestling in the late 90s, there is a valid case to be made that the Attitude Era helped to kill the value of professional wrestling angles.

Due to the nature of the business by that point and the ongoing battle between WCW and WWF for fan admiration and viewership, the concept of “Crash TV Angles” became second nature to what fans would come to expect on a given show.  Many matches and segments on Nitro and Raw shows included run-ins, interference, mass brawls and beat downs, and chaotic scenes, sometimes to the detriment of both products.  And while it may have worked for the time, it has also left a stain on the business in years to follow where other companies have tried to adopt that same Crash TV booking approach with the belief that it would carry weight in a much different period of wrestling.  Looking back through modern lens, would it be wrong to assert that it may have been “too much?”

The evolution of the “smart” wrestling fan can find it difficult to settle on matches with multiple run-ins, shenanigans, and angles without feeling overwhelmed and gypped if it does not feel warranted.  For AEW, this is still an area where they struggle to find a balance.  Again, this reverts back to the previous discussion of trying to book and spotlight too many wrestlers on a show at a given time.  Thus, AEW may find it crucial to get these wrestlers involved with interference and afterbirth angles just to “give them something to do.”  However, when AEW has three or four of these kinds of matches booked on a given show, it can be become problematic; the same can be said about booking backstage interviews that end in mass brawls multiple times throughout the show.  The end result is that nothing ever feels like it has any consequence or meaning.  The other dilemma is that it comes off as WWE Lite.

Again, AEW would greatly benefit from modeling the format of their matches and promos from a territorial standpoint.  Instead of implementing Crash TV booking for multiple matches and segments on a given show, they should limit this to one or two at the most.  This way, angles feel special, they have time to breathe, and the announcers can spend more time discussing the significance of said angles without needlessly forgetting about them the minute they end.

Conclusion:

AEW has improved the quality of their product in a lot of areas, but there is always room for improvement.  And while there certainly can be more additives to this list of things AEW need to focus on in 2022, these are some of the more apparent and essential ones.  Thoughts?


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Ratings Talk is Back!

Rob always brings logical insight to any topic, regardless of how often it’s brought up in the IWC. Sit back and give this a read, they don’t call Rob a genius for the t-shirts.

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OK, I know, I know, I’ve been saying it over and over for a very long time, ratings talk is dumb.  So why on Earth am I bringing it back?  Because now that some, ahem, developments have transpired I think I have a better case to make.  I don’t expect any of you who are obsessed with the subject to let it go, but you should at least hear me out here.  Now that the worm has turned a little, maybe the things that I and others have been saying all along will sink in a bit.

What am I talking about?  In short, AEW’s live audience numbers have taken a bit of a dip over the past couple of months, and this week even Dave Meltzer couldn’t say anything other than it was disappointing.  They haven’t gone over a million viewers for Dynamite in almost two months and Rampage slipped under five hundred thousand last week.  If this kind of thing was happening on the other side of the street then there would be some hot takes flying for sure.  So, are we going to get some of those now?  You know what I mean, things like:

  • AEW in the mud!
  • Worst ratings since (pick whatever date works for you)!
  • At what point does TNT start making demands on how the show is booked?
  • The ratings are obviously going down because the shows are unwatchable now!!
  • (Insert name here) is not a draw!
  • That title match in two weeks is hotshot booking to pop a rating!

Sound familiar?  We’re gonna see these soon, right?  No?  Why is that?  Are you trying to tell me that wrestling media doesn’t call this stuff the same on both sides of the street?  Seriously though, here are some other familiar things for you to chew on:

  • Dynamite is the highest rated non-NBA show on TNT, and it’s not close
  • Even on a disappointing night, it finished third in the ratings on cable
  • Rampage is the next highest rated and watched show on TNT after Dynamite
  • Fewer people watch TV now than before

Those are the kind of things a lot of us would say every week after people on the internet waxed doom and gloom about Monday Night Raw, of course.  And we were summarily dismissed as E drones or whatever.  But now that the falling numbers have struck AEW, the same rationalizations have begun.  But here’s the truth in both cases:

Everyone is doing fine.  RAW, Smackdown, NXT, Dynamite, and Rampage are all leading their respective channels for the day they air.  They all are among the top shows for their respective channels, even the much maligned (for their live audience numbers) NXT and Rampage.  There is literally nothing to see here folks as none of these shows are in any danger of getting cancelled.  No one is actually in the mud, guys.  The networks all know that Nielsen is suspect at best when it comes to measuring audience numbers, and they act accordingly.  There is no reason to rush to Shobuzz Daily every day at 4:30 unless you are just a numbers nerd like me but even then save the pontificating, ok? The numbers exist and that’s about it.  They serve no purpose for us as fans beyond goofy talking points.

But doesn’t it mean SOMETHING?

Well no, it doesn’t.  There are things you can derive from looking at the patterns over time but trust me when I tell you that your entire  narrative can be blown up in a matter of two weeks.  So don’t bother.  As I and many others have said before, a good rating does not mean a good show and vice versa.  There was a lot of trying to figure it out in the replies to Meltzer’s ‘disappointment’ tweet, and while there were reasonable takes there was also a lot of nonsense.  Which has been par for the course with RAW since like…….2002 at least.

So why do we keep doing this thing?

Well, it was a talking point that Eric Bischoff used to show how he was kicking the WWF’s butt over those 83 weeks.  But once that ended it became less and less relevant over time.  And then once TV viewership made the shift to streaming and DVRs it’s relevance was all but dead.  And it should have ended entirely once WWE signed two $1 billion TV deals in the face of nonstop ‘what about teh ratingz?’ talk on the internet.  That should have totally killed the conversation, but your friends Meltzer and company kept it going even though they (should) know better.  And they did it for traffic.

‘Fed bad’, ‘Fed down’, and ‘Fed in the mud’ has been selling Observer subscriptions for almost 40 years now while it has spawned a whole cottage industry of podcasts, YouTube channels, and websites over the last decade.  There is little to no truth to what any of these people are telling you when it comes to ratings, because if there was then they would be firing off the same takes about AEW that they’ve been using about WWE right now.  But they aren’t and that should be a tell.  If you ever needed proof that it was nonsense the last two months should be it.

Here’s a dose of reality for you:  Nielsen numbers are not accurate.  Several networks have already announced that they aren’t relying on them, Nielsen itself has lost it’s accreditation as an information gathering service, and the company itself has begun a shift to overall impressions from traditional audience measuring via Nielsen boxes.  What you read every day at 4:30 or on some wrestling website is by all accounts an inaccurate at best and dishonest at worst representation of how many people are watching these shows.  And the recent reporting of Fast Nationals, aka Overnights has only made it worse because those are a hastily gathered version of an already inaccurate report.

Here’s some more reality for you.  Regardless of what Nielsen says the live numbers are both WWE and AEW are going to get a nice bump in TV rights fees when they negotiate their new TV deals.  Other sports with smaller audiences just got more, and the NFL and NBA continue to get price hikes even as their numbers aren’t what they once were.  And your favorite internet loudmouths will continue to spout the same factually challenged gibberish that they’ve been saying for decades now.  None of it will matter unless you guys keep giving them money and traffic every month.

I’m going to make a bold statement here:  there is not a single thing that ratings talk has done to help the fan experience and in fact it’s only made things worse.  But it has made money for a lot of bad faith actors out there, many of whom want us to treat them as if they are reporting on Watergate or the Civil Rights Movement while they spout off takes based a change up or down of 100,000 people watching a wrestling show on TV.  At this point anyone writing serious essays or going on rants about ratings is not someone you should take seriously.  Just go do what you should have always been doing.  Watch the shows, enjoy the shows, go to the shows, talk reasonably about them with your friends, etc.  Anything else is just dumb.


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