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Cook’s Top 5 Revisited: (Potential) Non-WWE Stories of 2020

See what stories Steve Cook predicted wouldn’t be stories at all for 2020. Was Steve a fortune teller for what wouldn’t be a big deal in 2020?

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AEW Cody Rhodes Speech

See what stories Steve Cook predicted wouldn’t be stories at all for 2020. Was Steve a fortune teller for what wouldn’t be a big deal in 2020?

The end of 2019 feels like it happened several years ago. Back in those times, I was trying to guess what the top non-WWE stories of 2020 would be. I didn’t know that most wrestling companies other than WWE, AEW & Impact Wrestling would be out of commission for most of the year.

Let’s take a look back at what I thought would be the Top 5 Non-WWE Stories of 2020

5. Will ROH Make It Through 2020?

“Listen, I have nothing to base this feeling on. Maybe ROH’s ratings on Sinclair-owned stations are good enough to justify keeping the promotion running. I’m sure the ROH office is doing all they can to keep the execs happy. But man. There is just no buzz behind this fed right now. Like nothing. It’s like the past few years of Impact, where you wondered why they were even bothering.

The only time you even hear about ROH anymore is when somebody’s complaining about managment or concussion policies. They’ve lost their spot as the smark darling. They aren’t the #2 or #3 fed by default. They’re not even New Japan’s little sister fed. It’s a random fed with random stuff going on airing in syndication in random time slots on random stations.

Can ROH get their buzz back? Things aren’t looking good from where I sit.”

What Happened: You’re going to notice a trend as we move through each story. The coronavirus put a big dent in most of non-WWE wrestling, as promotions weren’t able to run shows on a regular basis due to social distancing guidelines and government orders. Ring of Honor spent most of 2020 airing spotlight shows highlighting their top performers. As somebody that hadn’t watched much ROH over the past couple of years and had picked up review duties for 411, I appreciated getting to know the competitors.

Then they came back with stricter COVID guidelines than any other wrestling company, while bringing back the Pure Championship. I don’t know how the show is doing viewership-wise, but I’m liking what I’m seeing.

4. NJPW of America: Will it stick?

“So there’s been all this talk of the new company New Japan has formed in America. It’s been a slow process that culminated with an announcement in October. There have been phases, which I will quote here:

Phase one: discovering new wrestlers in markets outside Japan and developing talent through the LA Dojo.
Phase two: run events in the US, including at Madison Square Garden and Dallas this year, both independently, and with the assistance of other promotions.
Phase three: establish a company within the US, and be ingrained in the everyday fabric when it comes to fans’ wrestling consciousness.

There’s going to be a more active touring schedule. Cool. But how are these shows going to look & compare with a standard NJPW show? And how are they going to be ingrained in the everyday fabric of fans’ wrestling consciousness when their TV deal with AXS TV looks to be done & their streaming website isn’t easily accessible for North American-based viewers? I think something announced this past week, where Chris Jericho agreed to give Hiroshi Tanahashi an AEW title shot if Tanahashi could beat him at Wrestle Kingdom, might be something to keep an eye on. Is the AEW/NJPW relationship better than we’ve been led to believe, or is Jericho/someone else trying to work an angle to help get the companies on the same page? I, for one, am intrigued.”

What Happened: As it turns out, this isn’t a great time to try & expand your footprint into America. Plans to run shows in front of fans in America were shelved. NJPW did produce a series called NJPW Strong focused towards the American market, airing on NJPW World & Fite TV. They’ve been doing that since August, with an eye towards building off of it once things return to “normal”. As for an AEW/NJPW relationship, nothing has really developed on that front.

3. The Powerrr of the NWA

“Probably the biggest surprise of 2019 was the return to the forefront of the National Wrestling Alliance. Billy Corgan’s fed had gotten the ball rolling with the 10 Pounds of Gold webseries, but things got kicked up a notch with the debut of NWA Powerrr. A studio wrestling show that looked like 1983 Georgia Championship Wrestling with a similar format & some modern performers was able to find a sizeable audience on YouTube. There was a slight bump in the road with one of the announcers, but that issue has been addressed & the commentary has been upgraded with the addition of Stu “Good News” Bennett.

So what happens in 2020? They seem to be testing a monthly PPV model with Powerrr on YouTube every week. Should that work out, we may see a move to bigger venues. What I know for sure is that Corgan had a 20 year plan when he bought the promotion, so he’s not in any rush. And he’s in a good spot to not be in that rush right now. It might behoove him to stay in that spot.”

What Happened: The previously mentioned pandemic led to Powerr being shelved at least for the time being, along with the cancellation of 2020’s Crockett Cup event that would have featured a match with Nick Aldis & Marty Scrull. The NWA started producing other weekly content on YouTube, but that got derailed when David Lagana left the company after allegations of sexual impropriety. NWA went dark for sometime before popping up recently with “Shockwave”, a PPV & eventually YouTube series in association with the United Wrestling Network. Some of the NWA’s stars have moved on to other places during the pandemic.

Their women’s championship has been featured on AEW Dynamite, with Thunder Rosa & Serena Deeb defending the title on multiple occasions. It’s one way to keep the NWA brand out there while they still try to figure out their future.

2. Will Impact’s improved TV lead to a resurgence?

2019 was a good year for Impact Wrestling. The Don Callis/Scott D’Amore regime produced a show that got good critical reviews & managed to keep at a certain level in spite of a talent roster constantly in flux. Their parent company bought AXS TV and gave the show a better night, time slot & network. For the first time I can remember, there’s something of a positive buzz around the company.

Impact will have a constant television presence at the same time all year, unless they decide to change it themselves. They have fresh talent like Sami Callihan, Tessa Blanchard, Brian Cage & others. There’s also some established talent like Rob Van Dam. Can they get the right mixture going & produce a show that appeals to an even wider audience? It could come down to Callis, D’Amore and other Impact staff being able to scout talent. They won’t be able to keep people that WWE want, and it’s likely that AEW could take people they want. If Impact keeps a deep bench & plans ahead, they should be able to keep making waves in 2020.”

What Happened: Impact definitely had its ups & downs during 2020. They managed to keep running regular television in Nashville without fans in attendance. They put their world championship on Tessa Blanchard, who was unable to return to work before her contract expired and wasn’t terribly interested in coming back once she was able to return. They could have handled that better, along with the Kylie Rae situation.

Other than a few bumps in the road, it was a pretty solid year for Impact. Their TV continued to be pretty solid for most of the year. Some nice quality wrestling mixed with some silliness that works in the Impact environment. While they’re obviously not the #2 US-based fed anymore, they’ve held off other feds to keep the #3 spot, and are getting some newfound attention by working with #2. They’ve lost some talent, but have picked up enough talent to keep things interesting.

1. The progress & patience of All Elite Wrestling

“AEW was the biggest non-WWE story of 2019, and I can guarantee it will be the biggest non-WWE story of 2020 in some form or fashion. There are two key points to keep an eye on:

The progress: People will be looking at TV ratings for Dynamite because that’s what they’ve been obsessed with since the late 90s. As important as those are, we also need to keep an eye on YouTube views for Dark, Being the Elite, clips from Dynamite and all their other programming. Attendance is also an important metric for AEW. Dynamite has been up & down, but the big events are still selling out in short amounts of time. Should that stop happening, we’ll know there’s really a reason to worry.

The patience: Will AEW management panic over things like falling ratings? So far, they’ve been content to play the long game with their story telling. They’re trying to build stars, and haven’t given up on people who haven’t started out well. (Dark Order) If the ratings keep falling, and other metrics take a turn for the worse, will they push the panic button? If they do, what will it look like?

I hope I’m wrong because I want everybody to be successful, but I get the feeling we’ll find out in 2020.”

What Happened: Well, forget about that attendance part. Ratings have been the story for AEW in 2020, and they’ve been fairly steady most of the year. Overall viewership between Dynamite & NXT has been closer than those prime demo numbers, where Dynamite regularly cleans NXT’s clock. NXT does better among older viewers, which is one nut AEW has yet to crack in spite of their involving various wrestling legends on their program on a regular basis. A contract extension with TNT gave AEW a boost heading into an uncertain time.

Personally, I haven’t noticed any sustained period where it looked like AEW was scrambling or in reaction mode to anything that WWE was doing. Not everything has been a hit. There have been some clunkers. It still seems like they have a direction they’re trying to go in more often than not.

Even with 2020 being 2020, AEW did ok for 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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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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