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Steve Cook’s Top 5: Concerns About AEW

Any concerns about AEW as we head into the weekend?

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AEW All Elite Wrestling

Steve Cook is ready for AEW, and you should be too. But are there looming concerns?

I’ll admit it. I’m pretty excited about All Elite Wrestling. It’s really good to see AEW ready for their first event.

The idea of having another bonafide major wrestling promotion in the United States is pretty exciting to me. The Elite guys are all pretty cool in my book. They’ve gotten some interesting talent to sign with AEW. There will be a wrestling show on TNT again!

Lots to get excited about. But I wouldn’t be a responsible journalist if I didn’t write about some of the things that concern me. Nobody’s perfect & everybody makes mistakes. AEW isn’t going to be a 100% perfect promotions. Here are my top 5 concerns…

5. The Khan Family Track Record

There’s no doubt that the Khan Family has a track record when it comes to making money. Shad Khan made billions & billions of dollars off of car bumpers. You have to respect that. What you don’t have to respect is his track record when it comes to sporting/entertainment ventures.

Take the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since he purchased the Jags in 2012, Jacksonville has mustered one winning season out of seven. They’ve lost eleven or more games during each of the other six seasons, resulting in a overall record of 32-80. That’s, like, the opposite of good.

Then there’s Fulham F.C., an English soccer club that had played twelve straight seasons in the Premier League when Khan bought it in July 2013. It took one season of Khan’s ownership to get Fulham relegated to the Championship. They finished near the bottom of that two straight seasons before finally getting things turned around. Their return to the PL in 2018-19 lasted one pitiful season.

All I’m saying is that the Khans aren’t known for presenting products that make their fans happy.

4. The Announce Team

Yes, I know. “He’s Jim Fucking Ross!” Indeed. JR hasn’t been a quality announcer since…good Lord…that Triple H/Undertaker match at WrestleMania 27? Maybe I missed something since then, but I don’t see anybody touting his Mae Young Classic or New Japan work. The guy’s a little past his prime, it’s not his fault, but trotting him out there in 2019 is a little iffy to me.

Then there’s Excalibur. Excalibur has been one of the most beloved announcers for years now due to his work with Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. It’s great he’s getting a shot from something that should be a major promotion, and I expect he’ll do well. But you know that people are going to look at him and say “Why the hell is the announcer guy wearing a mask?”. People hate it when this gets pointed out, but it’s going to be an issue.

Alex Marvez hasn’t announced before. He’s a great writer & reporter so I wish him the best.

3. Reliability of Talent

We all know about PAC being pulled out of Double or Nothing last week, but another AEW talent pulled out of a show over the weekend without bothering to tell anybody first. Absolute Intense Wrestling out of Cleveland was scheduled to have Fenix join them for an event on Saturday night. The only problem? Fenix never showed up! Maybe the dude had a good reason, it looks like he nearly kills himself nearly once every match he wrestles and there might be an injury there, but he could have at least called the promoter or sent a DM or e-mail or something.

WWE can get away with card changes more. For one thing, they rarely announce cards in advance, and for another thing they have a deep roster of people at pretty much the same level. What happens if Fenix and/or Pentagon Jr. don’t show up in Las Vegas for Double or Nothing? Who are the Young Bucks going to wrestle that wouldn’t be seen as a major step down from the Lucha Bros?

2. Amount of WWE Mentions

On the surface, a wrestling show with stuff making fun of WWE sounds a little fun, right? It’s always so edgy to take shots at the other guys & poke a little fun at their weaknesses. Last week’s Being the Elite opened with the Young Bucks & Peter Avalon re-enacting recent interactions between Luke Harper & the WWE front office. Dave Meltzer & the YouTube comment section thought it was the most hilarious thing ever.

Me? I lived through late-period WCW. I’ve relived some of it over the past couple of years for podcasting purposes, and it’s all so cringey. The WWF’s name got mentioned more times than WCW’s did on some of those shows. I’m not saying you should never ever mention your competition, but it doesn’t need to happen every segment of every show. WWE is a big part of Cody & Dustin’s history, so I don’t mind mentioning them there. Their match is the only one on the Double or Nothing card that also took place in WWE.

So who else needs to bring them up?

1. Work or Shoot?

The cancellation of the Adam Page/PAC Double or Nothing match mere days before the show is disconcerting on a couple of levels. There are a number of theories surrounding why it happened, none of which make AEW look good. Some say that Pac didn’t want to do the job because he’s a Dragon Gate champion. That’s been debunked by other people who said Pac was winning, which makes the reason of “creative differences” more confusing.

Others say that it may be a visa issue. I tend to doubt this one because why wouldn’t AEW just come out and say so? New Japan came out and told fans in North Carolina that they had visa issues, and the fans’ response was “Fuck Trump”. Why not let them do that?

We’re getting “creative differences” as the excuse. We talked about late-period WCW a minute ago, and this also reminds me of late-period WCW, where the work/shoot line was blurred in completely the wrong way. Goldberg would refuse to take a finish & walk out of a match. Multiple people laying down for other people at various points. AEW really doesn’t need to be going down this road.

And if the whole thing’s a work? How many PPV buys is “Adam Page vs. Mystery Opponent” going to add? How much will the shock & awe of a Pac appearance add to the show? And do we really need “creative differences” to become part of the wrestling lexicon more than it already is?

Let’s hope it doesn’t. Let’s also hope that the first TNT show doesn’t start with all of the Executive Vice Presidents bickering among themselves.


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Opinion

Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021

It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…

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It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.

It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!

5. Samoa Joe

I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.

In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!

4. Kris Statlander

AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.

Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.

Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.

Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.

3. Tay Conti

Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.

Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.

This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.

2. Bianca Belair

We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.

You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.

Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.

Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.

1. Darby Allin

Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.

The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.

What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.


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Opinion

NXT Minus 6: About that Cole-O’Reilly match…

It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

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It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

Exclusive: Kyle O'Reilly is ready to renew his career-long rivalry with Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver

6. I was jacked to 11 for Adam Cole versus Kyle O’Reilly. I was ready to give it a Tokyo Dome 6 stars. MOTY before the bell rang. A masterwork of storytelling. I correctly predicted it would be an unsanctioned match. Then the action started, and it quickly became “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans | WWE

5. After the first few acts of violence, it was apparent that the problem with the match would be the stipulation. The last NXT unsanctioned match was Johnny Gargano versus Tommaso Ciampa in 2018. That was 3 short years ago, but things move quickly in today’s world. There is very little chance an unsanctioned match can deliver the level of violence it promises as long as NXT is on the PG-13 Peacock.

The Most Brutal Spots from Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly's Insane Unsanctioned Match at NXT Takeover - EssentiallySports

4. Fans are losing their minds over all the content Peacock is leaving on the cutting floor. A lot of it was offensive and would never work today, but that’s not the point. The fact is there’s only so much violence Peacock’s parent company NBC will tolerate from wrestling. Take the chain, for example. Other than the clothesline, it was practically useless. O’Reilly tried to make it work, but it fell flat. In an unsanctioned match, 20 feet of heavy duty chain should be all you need to decimate another human being.

The B Word: Did Pro Wrestling's Blood Dry Up? | Ring the Damn Bell

3. Maybe I’m a victim of my own wrestling memory. An unsanctioned match in Memphis in the 80’s would have been a bloodbath. Someone would have been hung over the top rope with the chain around his neck. Whipped across the back. Hog tied. Someone would have wrapped it around their fist for a few stiff shots to their opponent’s forehead. But that goes back to my original point. None of that would fly today even if NXT was only on the WWE network.

5 Hilarious moments from this week's WWE programming

2. I’ll go so far as to say the only violent-promising stipulation that interests me is Falls Count Anywhere. There is zero drama in wrestlers pulling chairs from under the ring. The chance to use the naturally occurring environment as a weapon still holds a world of suspense. Someone is going through windows, walls, off the stage, over the guardrail, stuffed in a locker. Honestly, I’m tired of people getting hit in the stomach with folding chairs. Of all the ways to hit someone with a folding chair, that’s the least practical. 

WWE Announces Multiple Injuries At NXT New Year's Evil - WrestlingRumors.net

1. I’m sorry to say Kyle O’Reilly versus Adam Cole didn’t deliver what I expected. Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I don’t need over-the-top violence to entertain me. Maybe I don’t need wrestling to keep pushing the envelope. Five of my top 6 matches of 2021 are straight up wrestling matches. Maybe all I need is two (or three or four) strong characters and a good story. Damn, I sound old. 


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