Welcome back again, I hope you all survived Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Though I guess if you haven’t you won’t be reading this… unless they have Wi-Fi in the afterlife… Where was I? What happened? When did you get here? Sorry. I’m still a bit groggy from eating my weight in turkey and stuffing. I’ve eaten so much and I still can’t stop with the leftovers. I mean what the hell is pecan pie filling made out of? Sugar and crack? I can’t stop consuming it like I’m the Saarlac Pit and it’s Boba Fett screaming and flailing into my gaping maw.
Almost as good as the food was the wrestling over the past few weeks. So, let’s loosen our belts, let our food settle, and recount the reasons we’re thankful for wrestling this week.
5. NXT Wins Survivor Series
Much to our surprise, WWE actually let NXT win at Survivor Series. WWE may be famous for its missteps but this was the right call in every way. WWE gave NXT the herculean task of taking on AEW in a new ratings war. In order to do this, the brand has to break out of its role as a developmental league and assert itself as on par with the “main” WWE shows. What better way to do this than letting NXT beat Raw and Smackdown head-to-head?
Basically, the entire brand was called up to the main roster and they’ve been delivering each week. NXT had their coming out party during Survivor Series weekend. Not only by dominating at one of the Big Four PPVs but by preceding that with a spectacular War Games. HHH and NXT were able to navigate some seemingly conflicting storylines decently and nothing on the show has really suffered for it.
NXT was even put over Smackdown, Fox’s shiny new toy. You’d figure that since they spent so much money, Smackdown would have come out on top. Putting NXT over shows Vince is dedicated to the war with AEW, and competition usually breeds some of the best wrestling ever. Just ask anyone who lived through the Monday Night Wars.
4. Legends in AEW
— Virgil (@TheRealVirgil) November 28, 2019
I know this may seem silly to put on here, but HOLY CRAP! Virgil was on TV! We’ve all seen the sad Virgil memes as the former Million Dollar Valet desperately tried to sell his autographs. It was less funny and more heartbreaking for those of us who grew up loving Virgil. I remember his program against Ted DeBiase with great fondness. Seeing him break out on his own and overcome the Million Dollar Man was a feel-good moment for all of us watching.
Seeing Michael Jones, aka Virgil, aka Soul Train Jones (dude does look a little like Scatman Crothers), was not only a nice moment but it’s part of something bigger, that AEW does better than anyone. And that’s the balance of nostalgia and modern wrestling/superstars.
AEW can blend appearances from wrestling legends into their show without burying one of their roster or making it blatantly exploitative. Something WWE fails at miserably. DDP even shows up later in the night and looked like a total badass without embarrassing MJF or Wardlow. Then there’s the ultimate legend in the company: Chris Jericho.
— Virgil (@TheRealVirgil) December 1, 2019
Jericho is still active unlike most legends, but some have argued that he shouldn’t be at the top and it’s time to let younger stars shine. The thing is his run makes sense and Jericho, more than any wrestler ever, is able to reinvent himself and keep at the forefront of the industry. AEW is able to use nostalgia just enough to please us diehards while still remaining seemingly fresh and progressive as a brand.
3. Rey Mysterio’s Push
Seems like each year WWE scoops up a legend, gives them a soft push, then relegates them to the mid-card or a managerial role or takes them off TV entirely. WWE brought back Goldberg, Kurt Angle, the Hardy Boyz, and Rey Mysterio (up until this week) with a lot of fanfare that fizzled out soon after their returns. I mean Matt Hardy made himself the biggest thing in wrestling when he resigned and WWE failed to utilize the Broken character.
Yes, I know litigation tied up the character, but WWE made a mistake by debuting Matt Hardy in the old Hardy Boyz persona, instead of some version of the Broken gimmick. Look at Matt now. Jobbing out in his return match. It looked like Rey was about to follow the same fate.
Only a few weeks ago Rey talked about taking off the mask and retiring, and now he’s the United States Champ. Rey may be winding down his career, but instead of fading away on the undercard like WWE tried to do to Goldust, they gave Rey a compelling storyline in the main event at Survivor Series. The moments with his son felt triumphant (the kid looks good in the ring too). Even though he lost, father and son fought back and took it to the Beast.
Then, the next night, WWE booked Rey to pin AJ Styles for the US championship. AJ is no joke. Styles is a big part of the company’s future, and they gave Rey the win. Rey will probably retire shortly after Dominic debuts, but at least WWE is currently treating him with the respect he deserves (unlike so many legends before him). Like Jericho, Rey can still go with the best of them and WWE is finally booking him like it.
2. The Fiend Changes You
You are some cynical, hard to please people, you know that? I’ve heard countless people declare the Fiend character already dead. While there have been mistakes (mostly with Rollins), it’s still the most entertaining and enthralling thing in WWE. We complain about long term storylines, but the Fiend has been paying revenge to old enemies of Bray, bringing things from years ago full circle. Plus, there’s evidence of an even deeper story taking place here.
WWE isn’t known for subtlety and usually tells us things outright. So, let’s think about what the Miz said to Daniel Bryan about how the Fiend changes you. What if there’s more to the Fiend’s matches than a simple victory? What does a monster care about pinning people to the mat? We’ve seen his only interest in the belt is to goad others into fighting him. Cool angle btw.
What if his victories really do affect people, bring out the worst in them, infecting them like the Batman Who Laughs. Could his victories be responsible for Seth and Finn’s heel turns? Maybe that’s why he’s desperate to fight Bryan again. Bryan wasn’t turned, his willpower unbroken, he’s embraced to the Yes Movement again.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but maybe WWE is engaging in some deep storytelling that will affect every brand as the Fiend’s infection spreads. Only time will tell, but I’m damn entertained.
1. Undertaker on Broken Skull Sessions
I’m an old person, and as such I’m kinda late to the YouTube party. The only reason I found WrestleTalk and the other wrestling channels was because I was searching for shoot interviews with the Undertaker. The closest things out there were basically done in the American Badass persona. More talkative, sure, but hardly anymore enlightening to behind the scenes happenings.
Mostly, we had to rely on second-hand stories from other wrestlers about the Dead Man. However, this past week the WWE Network blessed us with an incredible shoot interview with Taker on the debut episode of Stone Cold’s Broken Skull Sessions. I won’t try to recount the whole session here, you need to go watch it if you have the network.
Some of the highlights, though, included Taker talking about his early days, training in Buzz Sawyer’s front yard and working the territories. Stone Cold and Taker tell a funny story about working together early on. Austin jokingly told the Dead Man, over the phone, that he’d stretch him in their upcoming match. After Dutch Mantell stirred the pot a bit, Undertaker put Austin in a number of shoot holds, not allowing Sone Cold to move or escape.
Taker goes on to talk about working with Dan Spivey in WCW as part of the Skyscrapers. Apparently, the future Waylon Mercy was a legit tough guy. He once wailed on the Legion of Doom with a chair in front of a live crowd. Afterward, they didn’t dare confront him about it backstage.
Again, just go watch the whole interview. Stories about drinking Cyprus Hill under the table and Taker’s openness about his future and physical health makes this one of the best shoot interviews I’ve ever seen. It’s touching, it’s funny, and it’s real.
That’s it for this episode. If you didn’t notice, we’re gonna start doing this series bi-weekly. The holidays are a busy time and I’ve got a few other projects cooking at the moment. Be kind to each other and yourself. You can follow me on Instagram where I mostly post pictures of my custom line of lederhosen and follow WrestleTalk on Twitter here.