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Starr: Who’s Next on the NXT Chopping Block?

With moving pieces, new logos and displays, as well as, people going to other companies…Who’s Next? Tommy Starr explores possible future cuts from NXT!

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The rumors of Vince McMahon and Bruce Pritchard overseeing and controlling all aspects of future NXT programming have been thwarted in the last few days.  While Vince and Bruce may have more input with the content, it seems that Triple H. and Shawn Michaels will continue to supervise the day-to-day operations of the show, as per the latest Wrestling Observer.  That said, another ongoing NXT rumor centers around the possibilities of more roster cuts in the coming weeks.  This news also stems from Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer.  The idea is to cut wrestlers that have been associated with the brand for “a long time.”

This would continue to tie in with Vince’s vision to have NXT return to its grassroots agenda of building Performance Center talents from scratch, focusing on personalities, and relying less on recognizable and established names to carry the brand.  Now, why their inclination would be to outright “cut” talents altogether, as opposed to simply moving talents up to the main roster is a good question.  That said, there are particular names associated with the NXT brand that have been on record stating that they have no desire to wrestle on the main roster.  So with this in mind, it would be interesting to speculate on some probable future cuts.  It is important to note that these names are purely speculation, and no sources have declared that these are the list of names that are rumored to be cut:

Roderick Strong-

With the recent changes to the structure of 205 Live, the cruiserweights and smaller athletic guys have been heavily de-emphasized.  And as great of a wrestler as Roderick Strong has proven to be in NXT, do you have any faith that Vince will have a clue as to what to do with him on the main roster?  If Roddy gets called up to Raw or SmackDown, he will be irrelevant in three to four weeks, tops.  His only path to success outside of NXT was 205 Live, but WWE wants that show to emphasize bigger guys (which seems to defeat the whole purpose of branding the show as 205 Live).  So by all accounts, where does that leave Roddy?  He has been a part of the NXT roster since 2016, his greatest achievement was his affiliation with the Undisputed Era (which no longer exists), and he perfectly fits in with the modo of “longtime roster members.”  He either continues to oscillate in NXT purgatory as part of this Diamond Mine Faction, or WWE decides that his services are no longer needed.

Drake Maverick-

Another wrestler that does not have a lot going on right now, and judging by his size and tenure alone, it is easy to see how little use Vince would see in Maverick going forward.  Unlike Strong, Maverick already toiled around on the main roster.  Unfortunately, even if people consider his impressive work, the company never did anything remotely productive with him.  Unless they have plans to heavily feature him on NXT going forward, we could end up seeing Maverick on the chopping block soon.

Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan-

While they are currently involved in one of NXT’s key storylines at the moment, we all know how quickly Vince’s mind changes.  It is hard to imagine that Vince would view Burch and Lorcan as “good investments” for the direction he wants to take NXT.  We also should not ignore the fact that, much like Strong, Lorcan and Burch are not novices to the NXT brand; they both have been around in various capacities since 2015.  And no offense to Burch and Lorcan, but they never had a reputation for being extroverted personalities or outgoing performers.  Good wrestlers?  Yes.  Future investments that Vince would find use for?  Probably not.

Johnny Gargano-

Again, this is a Roderick Strong situation.  Do you have any hopes that Johnny Wrestling would find success on Raw or SmackDown?  A veteran of the NXT brand since 2015, Gargano is also a smaller guy with a subpar personality.  It is difficult to imagine that, even with Shawn and Hunter overseeing NXT, Vince and Bruce would utilize Gargano in a major capacity.

Tommaso Ciampa-

Remember my comments about wrestlers wanting zero association with the main roster?  Ciampa has been very outspoken on this matter, and if Vince caught word of this (if he has not already), he could potentially initiate a vendetta against Ciampa.  Again, he is a wrestler that fits the mold of the chopping block cast; he has wrestled in NXT since 2015, and he is smaller by comparison to the talents Vince typically likes and pushes.  Ciampa, at least, has intensity and charisma unparalleled to wrestlers like Strong and Gargano.  However, is personality enough to convince Vince and Bruce to  keep Ciampa around, given his tenure with the brand?

Candice LeRae-

As reported recently, Candice is currently on the inactive list, as she and Gargano are expecting their first child in early 2022.  While not on maternity leave yet, she will be.  And with WWE really pushing for cuts and roster revamping, it is hard to imagine Vince would see Candice as an investment long-term, especially if she is going to be out for an extended period of time.

Ember Moon-

Ember has passed through the NXT system once before, and her initial main roster run left a lot to be desired.  While her second NXT run has not flopped, it has not particularly lit the world on fire.  At one point, it seemed like she was going to be thrusted back into the title picture when Io Shirai was champion.  Then, she teamed with Shotzi Blackheart for a while, won the NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships, only for Shotzi to be abruptly called up to the main roster, and now Ember has been seemingly directionless since.  It does not seem like they have any plans to put her back in the title hunt, and if Vince wants to liquidate longstanding talents with the brand, Ember fits into that category.

Again, these lists of names are NOT documented as “probable releases.”  Moreover, they are speculative talent cuts based on the credentials Vince and the company are setting forth with NXT’s future direction.  Losing these names would certainly not help NXT’s future in anyway, but unless Vince has visions for them on main roster programming, their tenure with the brand may be enough for Vince to send them to the chopping block.

Sources:

  • Aguilar , M. (2021, September 3). WWE NXT REPORT “effectively Denies” Vince McMahon and Bruce Prichard Production Takeover Rumors. WWE. https://comicbook.com/wwe/news/wwe-update-nxt-shoots-down-vince-mcmahon-bruce-prichard-rumors/.
  • Gibbons, A. (2021, September 2). Report: Wwe considering releasing longtime nxt superstars. Cultaholic Wrestling. https://cultaholic.com/posts/report-wwe-considering-releasing-longtime-nxt-superstars.


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Opinion

The Paradox of the Wrestling War in 2021

The IWC has been talking about a certain Friday Night and what numbers matter. Tommy Starr chimes in with his perspective on this “war”.

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wwe-vs-aew-war-logo

“War is peace… freedom is slavery… ignorance is strength.”  These are among George Orwell’s key three slogans in his novel 1984, which exemplify the ideology that when one has the power to lull individuals into false senses of security, they will blissfully ignore truth and reality to serve a perpetual agenda.

Since the inception of AEW, wrestling media has insisted on this idealistic narrative of a born-again “Monday Night Wars” comparative to that of a bygone era of professional wrestling that has not been seen since and will never be seen again.  For one reason or another, modern wrestling fans have bought into this impractical religious doctrine hook, line, and sinker, despite statistical evidence that contradict this ideology.

To put this in perspective, if there is a genuine wrestling “war” in the wrestling market today, it is not merely a war of the companies of AEW vs. WWE, rather it is a frivolous war between the oppositional fans of AEW and WWE.  The center of authority that continues to drive this animosity amongst the opposing fan bases rests at the helm of the wrestling media and the individuals within the business itself.  The manipulative narrative of the wrestling media and wrestlers in the business have managed to perpetrate a falsified creed that AEW and WWE are “at war.”  It is interesting to note that this blanket statement hedges the particular element of what both companies are at war with. The common implication is the war of competition, particularly competition for viewership.  And while this narrative carries some validity, it misses the key detail of what this abstractive war revolves around.  It is a waging fight among AEW and WWE fans to try and claim superiority over the other, despite the apparent truth that both sides are failing to expand beyond their niche audiences.  Hence, neither party can credibly claim any form of superiority.  In essence, this religious irrationality to suggest that one company is directly “winning” over the other continues to miss the essential endgame of what winning a war truly looks like.

In the business world, “smart companies” understand and invest in long-term strategies of acknowledging that when they lose small battles, they allow their opposition to enjoy those smaller victories; meanwhile, they do not allow those battle losses to obstruct their long-standing progress.  So contextually, AEW would be wiser to accept that their Friday night edition of Rampage show running head to head with SmackDown lost in overall viewership numbers by approximately 288,000 viewers, despite the fact that not only was SmackDown running on a different network due to Fox coverage of the 2021 American League Championship Series, but that AEW Rampage had actually gained viewership from the previous week by about 15.14%.  Instead, wrestling media continues to propagate that overall viewership is subordinate to what truly matters in this equation, that being the key male 18-49 demographic.  What this discounts is that when one analyzes actual numbers, both shows essentially tied in the target 18-49 demographic at a 0.24.

A strategic business owner obsessed with “winning wars” understands his opposition’s leader and avoids engaging in projecting irrational and petty beliefs in order to stir up his or her army.  Rather, it would be wiser to quietly and cautiously observe the opposition’s decision-making to effectively counter-program and capture the attention of potential consumers.  This does not bode well for Tony Khan when he engages in social media warfare with the opposition to try and stoke a fire that merely exists in a metaphorical fantasy.  All the while, the rival niche audiences partake in nonsensical arguments over which organization “won” a war that has not, does not, and will not exist, despite a genuine hope that professional wrestling will ever reach that level of popularity again worth necessitating a war.

A true and authentic wrestling war in today’s culture should be the fight to reassemble a lost and/or new audience. Per discussion of a lost audience, that insinuates both parties fight for the admiration and trust of disgruntled audiences that have since tuned the product off from their habitual consumption.  Arguably, this can be seen as a lost cause, considering most of these wrestling fans have long since distanced themselves from professional wrestling. However, a business that can successfully earn back that trust of disassociated consumers is a fruitful investment. Catering to loyal and clinging fan bases may be short-term goals, but they are not expansive business strategies.  And based on the weekly viewership numbers, ratings, and key demos for both parties, AEW and WWE continue to cater short-term appeal to their niche audiences instead of investing in long-term strategic outreach to new audiences.  The art of mastery on this level is a war worth fighting for.

Sources:

  • Casey, C. (2021, October 18). Who won Friday night’s ratings battle between WWE smackdown and AEW Rampage? WWE. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://comicbook.com/wwe/news/wwe-smackdown-aew-rampage-oct-15-ratings-war-who-win-tied-demographic-smackdown-wins-audience/.
  • Feloni, R. (2014, August 14). 33 war strategies that will help you win in business. Business Insider. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/war-strategies-to-win-in-business-2014-8.
  • Thurston, B. (2021, January 15). Key demo and total audience: What are they and how much do they matter? Wrestlenomics. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://wrestlenomics.com/2020/07/14/key-demo-and-total-audience-what-are-they-and-how-much-do-they-matter/#:~:text=With%20a%20new%20head%2Dto,advertisers%20to%20the%20programs’%20networks.


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Steve Cook’s Fave Five: October 2021

From the Head Of The Table to the Future Head Of The Table, and more, Steve Cook has his Fave Five for October!

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Bron Breakker

From the Head Of The Table to the Future Head Of The Table, and more, Steve Cook has his Fave Five for October!

We’re more than halfway through October, and you know what that means! It’s time to make a list of my five favorite wrestlers! It’s either do this or write about the latest wrestling news, and as fun as it is to talk about television ratings, this seems more productive at the moment.

5. Mercedes Martinez

It’s considered impolite to discuss age. At least it used to be. I’m not sure anything’s considered impolite anymore based off of what I read on the Internet & see on television. People have pitched manners out the window as they’ve become accustomed to not worrying about getting punched in the face. There’s a point I’m trying to get to here, and that point is that it’s nice that women’s wrestling has arrived at a place where I can write about somebody that’s been wrestling about as long as I’ve been an online wrestling journalist, and they’re kicking ass & taking names. Makes me feel a bit less creepy.

Martinez’s return to the indies & emergence in Impact Wrestling has gone well. What Impact is doing with her isn’t exactly rocket science: have Mercedes Martinez destroy everybody in her path to a title shot, and make people believe that whoever the champion will be between Mickie James & Deonna Purrazzo will have a difficult test on their hands. Simple, right? Throw in the incoming debut of the IInspiration, and it’s pretty easy to get excited about the Knockouts Division & where it’s headed.

4. Bron Breakker

Yes, the name is pretty awful. Yes, NXT 2.0 isn’t exactly setting the world on fire after a few weeks. But it’s tough to deny the talent of the son of Rick Steiner. Dude has the physicality & the speaking tone of his father & uncle. Not quite the size of Rick or Scott in later years, but if genetics are any indication he’ll get there. It won’t be long before he’s NXT Champion, heck, I’m kind of surprised he didn’t get drafted to Raw or SmackDown already. He’s got money written all over him.

As for that pesky name issue…names aren’t as big of an issue as we like to think they are. Dolph Ziggler would have been future endeavored years ago if bad names held talent back. You also have to keep in mind that WWE will probably change his name before he gets to the main roster. No need to sweat the small stuff here. This guy will be a star somewhere under some name. Probably for the best the longer he holds off using the Steiner name, given how the wrestling business works.

3. Junior Dos Santos

If you’ve followed mixed martial arts for any length of time, you know that most fighters’ careers don’t end in a blaze of glory. Fighters want to keep fighting, and even if the losses keep stacking up they still think they’re one win away from getting back to the top. Young fighters are looking to make their names, and beating the brakes off of fighters with track records is a good way to do that. At age 37, JDS has entered that phase of his MMA career. He’s lost four straight fights, all via TKO, all to younger fighters looking to make a name. He could keep doing that, or he could move on to something else while his name still has value.

Why not pro wrestling? Granted, I seem to be one of the few people writing words on wrestling websites that actually like AEW’s angle with American Top Team & Dan Lambert, but JDS is the perfect fit for something like this. He’s a large human being, wrestling fans by & large know who he is, and he has the type of athletic ability that should transition well to pro wrestling. He’s lost a few fights, but the people he lost to are doing pretty well in UFC’s heavyweight division. I’m willing to give it a chance. Also, when the inevitable AEW vs. WWE shootfight rumble happens, AEW’s going to need him around.

2. Roman Reigns

It’s like we said years & years ago: Turn Roman Reigns heel and people will start to like him. I don’t know why the idea took so long to enact, but WWE finally turned Roman Reigns heel and people have started liking him. How about that? Amazing how these things happen. Roman’s charisma has become much more apparent in his role as the Tribal Chief, Head of the Table, Big Dog, Island of Relevancy or whatever else they’re calling him this week. The interactions between Roman & Brock Lesnar have made for good television, so good that I think even Patrick O’Dowd is on the Paul Heyman bandwagon these days.

That all being said, I think I’m enjoying his off-screen character more than his on-screen character these days. Reigns has taken the baton from Seth Rollins & become Mr. WWE Defender, and does it in a way that’s less whiny than what Seth used to do. Perhaps a bit delusional, but much more convincing. Who would win in a shootfight between Roman & CM Punk is completely irrelevant, as last I checked none of these people were shooting in WWE or AEW rings, but he managed to make people care about it somehow. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

1. Bryan Danielson

I know we’re supposed to care first & foremost about what company somebody works for these days. So I’m sure there are some of you out there that have decided that the man formerly known as Daniel Bryan has to be washed up and no longer one of the best wrestlers in the world. Or he’s unfairly putting his life on the line outside of the welcoming bosom of WWE. Nah, it’s probably just the easy “B+ player” talking point that most of the same folks went with when Bryan was still with WWE.

Me, I just care about what’s going on in the ring. Whether other people like it or not has never been one of my main problems. As I’ve pointed out before: I don’t get paid by any of these companies, and I don’t get paid by other people to shill for them. All I know is that it’s a joy to have Bryan Danielson back on my television, and his matches have been as good as expected. It really doesn’t take all that much to make me happy, just good wrestlers doing good things.


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