MR. TITO STRIKES BACK – Top 10 Takeaways From This Week in Wrestling (WWE, NXT, and AEW)

WWE

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I have returned from da Retirement Home to post yet another column exclusively here at LordsofPain.net. From what I could legally see, I have tried to play catch-up for the week that just was in pro wrestling. As a cord cutter (no Cable or Satellite), I’m seeing RAW and NXT on the next day via Hulu and am watching as many clips for AEW that I can on YouTube. I watched the FOX Smackdown show on broadcast television as it happened.

So to just make my introduction short, I’ll get right into it. Here are my overall takeaways from this past week’s wrestling events:

#1 – All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is the fastest growing wrestling promotion ever!
Seriously, let’s just take this in for a moment… Regardless of what you think of the talent or creative direction of AEW, the fact that this promotion just started in JANUARY yet can instantly pack 10,000 seat arenas AND draw 1.5 million viewers (or so) is remarkable. Ted Turner bought WCW during 1988 and couldn’t get his promotion feeling like a legitimate competitor to the WWE until 1996. TNA wrestling never felt like a competitive threat. This is crazy… Kudos to Cody and the Young Bucks for realizing that there is demand by many disgruntled wrestling fans out there for another product.

#2 – NXT isn’t as popular as everyone thinks.
Well under 1 million viewers and when you compare that to AEW’s debut numbers, major distance between the 2 shows. But I have said this for YEARS and the loyal NXT base has attacked me for saying… NXT isn’t as popular as everyone thinks. Do you remember when the WWE Network would show those Top 10 viewed show lists? NXT was often barely on that top 10 list. I personally like the NXT brand and it’s my favorite of the 3 types of shows (WWE, AEW, and NXT)… BUT, it may be better in smaller dosages like for 1 hour per week and Takeovers 4-5 times per year. Having a 2 hour show might overexpose this brand that looked good in a smaller arena for just 1 hour per week. Then, when you are flipping channels between NXT and AEW, it is amazing how much the presentation contrasts from a smaller poorly lit arena versus a larger arena bursting with bells and whistles.

#3 – FOX Smackdown show was the same old WWE.
Yeah, we had Erin Andrews show up, some of the production cues have changed their presentation, and WWE stuffed in as many celebrities and past names as they could… But the foundations of the Smackdown booking and matches are exactly the same. After that Rock segment the WWE went right into a Women’s Tag Match that was just a typical WWE match. Nothing special. Here’s the Rock and here’s something highly inferior to his star power that you’ve decided not to watch for years. And then we right into the goofy Funhouse/Fiend stuff… If I’m a non-wrestling fan trying to watch WWE Smackdown for the very first time on FOX, I’d feel embarrassed watching that Firefly Funhouse segment. I felt embarrassed watching that crap, so thus I can’t imagine how awkward a newer fan would feel seeing that. Yikes.

#4 – RAW needs to be 2 hours long, period.
We’ve said it for years… And yes, nobody will listen. But 3 hours is too much. The WWE roster is WAY TOO THIN to support that much wrestling in a week. It not only wears out the WWE product and its wrestlers, but also its fans. On Pay Per View weeks, you’re still asking your consumers to watch up to 8 hours of wrestling on a given week. 5 hours without the Pay Per View and if you expect them to watch NXT, that’s 2 additional hours. Remember, even with the LOADED roster that WCW had during 1997-1998 that had a way better midcard and main event scene than the WWE does now, they struggled with 3 hour Nitros and 2 hour Thunders during 1998. Think about that!

#5 – Women’s wrestling isn’t that popular and is getting overexposed.
Look, I enjoy women’s wrestling and since Sasha & Bayley impressed me at NXT Takeover Brooklyn 2015, I’ve been on their bandwagon… But really, there are only 5-6 women on the WWE Women’s roster that impress me and over the past 4-5 years, we’ve already seen EVERY match-up possible with those women. Sasha Banks vs. Alexa Bliss was just a midcard match the other night on RAW and Sasha got the easy win. Think about that for a second, as Alexa was the one they were just pushing hard for the past few years. They just tried the “headlining Wrestlemania” experiment with Charlotte, Rousey, and Becky and not only did it not deliver well as a Main Event, but there’s no momentum. Becky’s “Man” is not that over and the attendance/viewership numbers prove that.

On the other side of the coin, AEW’s Women’s Division is AWFUL. Just a weird mix of no-name talents that aren’t unique, heavyweights, and Japanese wrestlers that don’t mix well. Just watch that AEW Women’s Title match from Dynamite. How on earth can a less-than-100 pounds Riho even stand a chance against a female named Nyla Rose who weighs a billed 169 pounds. Riho shouldn’t even be able to hurt her… On top of that, who on earth is Riho? Just because she appears on AEW shows, doesn’t mean that connects fans with her or other wrestlers that they’ve debuted with ZERO introduction.

Women’s wrestling has been a nice addition to the Midcard with more serious and credible athletes. I 100% back-up Becky, Sasha, Charlotte, Bayley, and Alexa Bliss as legitimate in-ring talents… But I supported Trish, Lita, Mickie James and others back then, too…

Wrestling promoters need to realize WHO ACTUALLY WATCHES WRESTLING: Guys. And when you take that into effect, then go look at $ revenue and viewership numbers for the NBA versus the WNBA. One league pulls in billions (NBA) while the other loses money by the year (WNBA). In fact, the NBA subsidizes the WNBA, that’s a fact, and the WNBA would likely not exist without the NBA’s constant support. Do you think that Women’s wrestling could draw on its own as a standalone promotion?

And again, I want to stress this, just as I’m giving major credit to AEW as a BRAND NEW promotion… Women’s wrestling, as a seriously pushed product, is still in its infancy. It was just during mid 2015 when the “Women’s Revolution” happened when Sasha, Charlotte, and Becky joined the WWE roster as a really big deal. Let these women wrestle, not get overexposed, and build their brand up. Pushing them too fast when you don’t have a deep bench is dangerous to Women’s wrestling’s overall health. That, and Women’s wrestling has yet to create a Hulk Hogan/Rock/Austin/Piper/Macho/Flair/Cena type draw… Until THAT person arrives, we should pump the breaks on pushing that division too much… Also, start to realize that your benches are not that deep and not everybody deserves a pony to be on television.

#6 – I’d back the BRINKS Truck to CM Punk’s house if I were AEW and sign AJ Lee too.
AEW did about 1.5 million (or so) while RAW did 2.5 million. RAW’s numbers are going to drop after this Season Premiere stuff wears off and then when the DRAFT occurs. Plus, they are always at risk for dropping hard if a strong NFL Monday Night Football game occurs. AEW is within striking distance of already defeating RAW in viewership numbers and that’s crazy to me. There is 1 man out there who could really put him over the top and that is CM Punk. Though Punk flirted with joining the FOX Sports show and maybe with the idea of rejoining the WWE, but on his terms… I don’t think he really wants to be there. With AEW, I believe he just wants to be seen more love… Well, get that BRINKS truck to his house and let him be whatever he wants. Commissioner or wrestler, doesn’t matter. Get him on that damn mic and let him say whatever. I’d actually let him join the creative team. Hell, make him an EVP if you have to. He’ll get that extra 1 million viewers.

But sign AJ Lee as well… Years later, I realize what a remarkable talent she actually was… No, not the RAW Commissioner version of her, but the in-ring talent and also the pawn between Daniel Bryan and CM Punk during that storyline. She’s unique and cool, tremendous mic skills… Most of all, she connects incredibly well with wrestling fans. Like, she’s into stuff that guys like such as video games and comics… Yet, she appears as authentic in doing so… If you ever watch a female commentator on a Comic Con, they go over the top with their “love” of that stuff but AJ Lee has real passions about the stuff that she likes. But I also think that wrestling fans believed that she legitimately loves the business. Go watch that video of a younger AJ Lee legitimately crying at seeing her hero, Lita, sign an autograph for her. We need MORE of AJ Lee in the wrestling business instead of less (thanks, WWE). AJ Lee would give some much needed starpower to the AEW Women’s Division or lack thereof.

#7 – Tone it down, Velveteen Dream
I’m a HUGE fan of the Dream… Love the character and am impressed by the in-ring work. The guy is super young and he’s that good… Blows my mind. In my opinion, he could be the next big star of the business IF he puts everything together. But dude, “LESS IS MORE”. That entrance on the past NXT show was ridiculous and too much… It was just weird. I understand that you are pushing him as exotic and maybe just like the Prince musician, but if you look back at Prince’s history, he was deemed “weird” for his excessive presentation too. After the 1980s, he lost his popularity mojo despite trying more things to get attention. Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.

#8 – Matt Riddle is the most talented in-ring worker, period.
Do I need to state any more information? Matt Riddle is ridiculous… I hate to say this, but the main WWE roster needs him. Yes, that will greatly hurt the NXT product, but this guy is ready for prime time. I’d put him on Smackdown for the bigger FOX audience to see him. “Holy cow, he’s wrestling in his bare feet?!?” Yeah, and he does it very well. Push him to the top and I’d take his demands to wrestle Bill Goldberg VERY seriously! In fact, I’d try to make it happen. This guy does nothing but deliver in the ring. As much as I’ve mocked MMA talents for making the transition, Matt Riddle deserves to be in the same class as Kurt Angle for instantly “getting it” about the wrestling business.

#9 – Why train for years as a pro wrestler? Just join MMA first and then become a pro wrestler.
I’m going to sound like a hater here but I was underwhelmed by the end of Smackdown. Cain Velasquez appeared and I was like “who is that?”. I don’t like UFC, especially as they poorly market their own product by pushing the UFC brand over its star performers. Trying to find a contender’s list to their titles is ridiculous and then watching their events can be a bore. Brock Lesnar looks good as a former UFC fighter because he was a trained pro wrestler, first… Jim Cornette and Danny Davis trained him well while Paul Heyman in his ear has helped to form his character. What kind of training will Cain Velasquez get? This isn’t real fighting… And can you cut a promo? Paul Heyman is the only manager allowed to exist in the WWE, so thus you can’t find someone to speak for you.

As just described above, Matt Riddle is a freak athlete and is adapting to it well… But not everyone is like him. Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, and even Ronda Rousey tried to bring their starpower to the WWE and its impact wasn’t always there… You cannot train the art of pro wrestling to someone in just a few months. Most top stars spent YEARS learning their craft. Ronda Rousey STRUGGLED when the talent on the opposite side of the ring wasn’t bumping perfectly for her. Then, when you put Rousey on the microphone, YIKES!

If I were anyone on the WWE roster who spent a decade starving on the Indy Circuit and then spending years in the WWE’s developmental system to be “refined” as a wrestler, I’d be PISSED OFF today at seeing Cain Velasquez taking an instant top spot. So what if he beat Lesnar on UFC? That was UFC! If you can’t talk or walk as a pro wrestler, you won’t get accepted by wrestling fans. Cain will have to be a freak athlete like Matt Riddle on instantly getting the pro wrestling business or this could be a major failure. Furthermore, this is where FOX’s involvement with the wrestling business could be problematic. If this is what FOX believes adds realism to the WWE product, then they don’t understand the wrestling business. Just show them an Income Statement over the past year for attendance and merchandise for events that Rousey was on and that will prove FOX wrong. Rousey was a much bigger star than Velasquez, too, in UFC.

BUT… If this Cain Velasquez experient works, then I’ll be proudly wrong. Specifically, he could become a legitimate Hispanic heavyweight superstar which the WWE has never had. They were close with Alberto Del Rio but overpushed that guy when they should have been a tad more patient or kept him on the Smackdown brand during 2011 (Del Rio ruined the “Summer of Punk”).

And finally…

#10 – I’m very happy for Jack Swagger… I mean Jake Hager in AEW!
Many of us expected CM Punk… But this guy is a fine addition to AEW. Hager is 37 years old which is still young and in the prime years for the pro wrestling business. But I’d argue that many fans (a) recognize that he’s talented and (b) felt that WWE misued him. It’s these WWE castaways that make for fine free agent signings elsewhere. On top of that, Hager has some MMA experience to add on top of his WWE career. It works…

Is it the “Lex Luger joins WCW from 1995″ level of surprise? No because Hager was already rumored to be joining AEW. Plus, he was last seen in WWE during 2017… Luger’s last WWE appearance was just days from his WCW Nitro debut.

But let’s not deny the signing… WWE fumbled on the guy and Hager had a few personal issues that ended the potential of his 2013 push. On that front, Hager’s addition to AEW has some real potential for redemption for Hager as a superstar talent. I really like it, to be honest, and I love how they are instantly pushing him as a monster heel. Hager is 6’5” and feels like a giant in the much smaller AEW, thus he can appear as much more physically imposing there than in WWE. It’s a major win for AEW especially if he’s a part of a heel stable now that gets pushed with a cool name as well.

MISSED THE CUT
Here are two takeaways that missed my top 10, but I feel the need to also address.

I. I was never a fan of Kofi Kingston’s WWE Title win, anyway. For the many fans upset after Kofi getting destroyed in under 10 seconds, I honestly don’t care. He should have NEVER been WWE Champion during 2019. He wasn’t ready at Wrestlemania when they crowned him, as he was just a midcard Tag Wrestling comedy act just months before the WWE Title push. Kofi was a last minute fill-in for a Pay Per View and protesting fans, upset at Smackdown’s WWE Title scene, trolled the WWE by cheering for him. Becoming World Champion should be a much longer process than the one Kofi endured. Kofi spent the last decade as a midcard wrestler and then a comedic midcard wrestler. Then, when the WWE made him WWE Champion, they added no seriousness to him. The real New Day wrestler who should be wrestling singles is Big E, not Kofi. Thus, I’m not upset at Lesnar destroying him THOUGH that squash pretty much buries Kofi’s future opportunities.

II. Kevin Owens defeats Shane McMahon and “fires him”. Whoopee. That was NOT a big win for Kevin Owens last night on Smackdown. He has had to sell for part-time, late 40s, trust fund backyard wrestling Shane McMahon for over a year now. Had it not been for WWE fans openly rebelling against the WWE rumors that Vince was seriously considering making Shane become the WWE Champion, Kevin Owens would NOT have beat him last night. KO winning last night does not erase the past year of Owens having to sell for Shane. Go ask Miz how his career has been since losing to Shane. I guarantee that Kevin Owens will remain in his upper midcard status for the rest of his career following this “win”. And Shane will be back, count on it.

THE LAST WORD
Interesting week in pro wrestling history… AEW appears to be a legitimate contender that FANS want to make into a competitor. It’s now up to AEW to keep figuring out what wrestling fans want as an opposition promotion to the WWE. Easier said than done but I believe that the first week of AEW Dynamite took the promotion into the right direction.

Meanwhile, it’s the same old WWE… Poor Creative Team, too reliant on stars from the past, not enough current star power, and overpushing Women’s wrestling (AEW is guilt of that too). WWE has too much product out there and should at least scale back RAW by 1 hour. The Brand Split DRAFT has real potential to harm the WWE if they cannot push all of its star power on both shows. There’s a reason why the WWE quickly went to the “Wild Card” rule because they saw how damaging the last few shake-ups have been.

NXT, in my opinion, is the BEST in-ring brand… What it lacks is the presentation side of things. We know that it’s the WWE’s farm system and being in a smaller arena, it really looks like it. Yet, their in-ring talent is absurd and is actually miles ahead of both WWE and AEW… But the promotion is in a weird funk about wanting to appear bigger but being presented as smaller. Honestly, I would put Velveteen Dream and Matt Riddle on Smackdown RIGHT NOW if I were running the WWE.

You know who will win this “war”? The first promotion who can find the next Hogan/Piper/Macho/Andre/Undertaker/Rock/Austin/Cena… That star that transcends the sport of pro wrestling that pulls in casual fans and converts them into full-time wrestling fans. Listing to Colin Cowherd interview Hulk Hogan yesterday made a valuable point about Hulk Hogan. Hogan got over WITHOUT today’s marketing tools or social media. He, along with Andre the Giant, got over based on WORD OF MOUTH and pushing a MYTH… Could you imagine Rock, Austin, or Hogan existing with all of these marketing tools, different ways to watch wrestling, and social media? Sure, the cynics would eat them alive on Social Media, but that’s a minority of wrestling fans… With today’s Media Infrastructure, a MEGA STAR in pro wrestling would be intensely popular across the world.

The question is this… WHO creates or finds the next MEGA STAR in the pro wrestling business? And is that wrestler around right now?

All it takes is ONE GUY that is captivating and can draw. WWE during the 1980s was strong but when they signed away AWA’s growing babyface sensation in Hulk Hogan, the WWE was a force to reckon with. After Steve Austin delivered the “Austin 3:16” speech at King of the Ring 1996, WWE had something with that guy that fans wanted to see. John Cena had a hip hop character that was wildly popular among multiple demographics. The Rock and Bill Goldberg looked like they were ripped out of comic books (I could say the same about Hulk Hogan). These guys were magnetic for wrestling fans and they couldn’t get enough of them. If you look at the WWE roster during 1998, it was a bit thin on the midcard part… But Steve Austin at the top caused many fans to ignore the lack of quality there. They’d endure the bad midcard just to see the latest by Steve Austin.

Just one guy, folks… Who can find the next MEGA STAR in the pro wrestling business. That will determine who wins this new promotional “war”.

History also shows that the promotion that signs the correct creative failures by the other promotion will also see victories… WWE signed Austin, Foley, and Triple H away from WCW to help them form the Attitude Era, just like WCW signed away Luger, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall along with many smaller wrestlers that had failed tryouts with WWE. Will Dean Ambrose, Jake Hager, and other wrestlers that they’ve refused to sign matter?

Time will tell…

Exciting time to be a wrestling fan… Competition is good. Too much competition, however, is bad. As I argued in a previous column, “Less is More” and “Quantity does not equal Quality”… Be very careful flooding the market with too much wrestling to watch. Oh, Impact, MLW, and NWA want some of my time too? Come on man…

As I argued in my last column, there are specific reasons why past promotions succeeded but there are also specific reasons why they fell apart, too. As I always keep saying and quoting George Santayana from the early 1990s: “those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it”.

On my end, I’m going to be casually covering wrestling… I’m still in “retirement” mode by posting columns on a part-time basis instead of Weekly or often times, posting 2-3 columns per week. I’m giving promotions a chance to earn my money… When I sense that one is getting red hot, I’ll jump back in. As I’ve quoted repeatedly from the great Magneto, “in chess, the pawns go first”. I just don’t have the time to spend watching hours of wrestling as I once did, nor do I want to harm my health by causing Insomnia covering it as Mr. Tito. WWE, AWE, and NXT need to earn my trust again as a wrestling fan and then I’ll dive back into it again full time. Until then, I’ll just post stuff whenever I feel it it and that’s good… I’ve really liked the columns that I’ve posted for 2019. “Less is more” for me, too.

So just chill… Until the next episode!

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Play my Pro Wrestling themed Mario Maker 2 courses on the Nintendo Switch:

Super Wrestling Bros: 0H6-9HT-S5G
WWE Royal Rumble: SDH-JC2-HFG
WWE Elimination Chamber: P3B-5DJ-91G
WCW World War 3: BT4-W1Y-HRG
Extreme Championship Wrestling: 42J-4GT-W3G

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