“ I think I really would have had a tough time with no audiences. I as a performer, am happy for the WWE to have crowds again. I really look forward to get back in front of those crowds.” -John Cena
It has been little over a week since AEW Dynamite opened a line of shows with packed out crowds, after waiting patiently at home for almost 16 months. The times dictate the nature of the business, which is forever changing and morphing with the fans driving it forward. They influence which road a company goes down with character development, whether it be a sharp turn or setting up camp. Our live feedback enhances the products, but it also points out whether we love, hate, or don’t care. Social media responses are a crutch, because they rarely line up with those people attending live. Because of this, the business steered through troubled waters with one eye closed and the other half open. They pulled the talent together, battened down the hatches, and fought their way through the blurry mess.
With money lost and people thrown overboard, those who remained had to adapt. For some, they had no choice but to find the nearest cave and drop the anchor til the storm subsided. Only the biggest ships had the resources to keep on keeping on, and we’re glad they didn’t stop. However, industry weaknesses were brought to the fore, as the plight of the independent contractor became ever more clear. Wrestling had to take a hard look at itself. Talent having no choice but to work or face financial turmoil. Wearing masks and testing. Taking care of the vulnerable and setting up shows without fans. These were some of the biggest hurdles in the early months, and it took a while to figure out the new norm. When it happened, we appreciated having something to look forward to.
With everything else thrown out of the window, options for live, original entertainment became sparse. We came to realize how important this was to our lives, and how much the talent appreciated us. After all, they were working even harder to entertain without us being there. As Paul Heyman said, not having fans is like having sex with yourself. However, without us there to spoil moments, some talents could breathe and develop better than they would have if we were there. Undoubtedly, we make moments extra special, but we’re equally good at impatiently crapping over something for no good reason. We’re quick to judge things before they develop, and then we’re left wondering what could have been after the plug is pulled. We don’t always know what we want, because we’re all different, so it intrigued me to see what would happen when we returned to full crowds.
What would we like? Would we appreciate wrestling more than ever? What if some of the bigger acts were not as over as assumed? How would the talent deal with that? Would they change it up if they were down the wrong road? There were so many questions which only the fans could answer. I’ll let you in on some good news. It doesn’t feel like anything has been a disaster, because I think we’re content to see the talent no matter how they have changed. From what I hear, we’re reacting how the companies hoped we would, which tells us how great of a job they’ve done during one of the toughest times in wrestling history.
There have been some memorable moments which I’d like to highlight today:
Ricky Starks winning the FTW Championship.
While they have built Starks as a heel in Team Taz, it’s obvious that the fans love him because he’s so naturally charismatic. While AEW has teased Cage as a face for weeks, he struggles with this part of his game, so it’s tough to see anyone supporting him over Starks. Doing this during the pandemic wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective.
Britt Baker is miles ahead in the Women’s Division.
She’s so over because of her work during the pandemic, the simple letters “DMD” make up one of the loudest chants today. I’d argue it’s getting over more than Adam Cole “Bay Bay”, which I’m sure he’s not too jealous about.
The Inner Circle, especially Chris Jericho & Sammy Guevara.
Chris Jericho carried on where he left off, but the work they put in to Guevara during the pandemic has been superb, and he’s now reaping the rewards as a young babyface. He’s one of those guys in AEW who has come so far, yet there’s much more left to find.
Darby Allin coffin drops… a coffin? Also, Ethan Page.
Ethan Page is so amazing, I’ve been following him for a while now (since just before Impact), and it’s encouraging to see his development. He’s so natural as a heel that there aren’t many in AEW who are better outside of MJF, so the sky’s the limit for his ego. As for Darby Allin, he hasn’t lost a step, the fans still love him and he’s crazy as ever. He was definitely suffering during the pandemic without the fans’ support, but now he can get back to doing what he does best.
Roman Reigns is acknowledged. Edge blows the roof off.
Yeah, there’re fans who are like… Roman Reigns still sucks, he’s still as bad as he ever was, this Tribal Chief sucks… blah blah. Yet, when he entered on SmackDown, he got a massive pop and he looks like a mega star now. There’s no denying the acknowledgement of the Head of the Table. He gets pops on his entrance, but will get booed later when the novelty wears off. Edge however, I ain’t heard pops like that for a standard entrance since Steve Austin in the Attitude Era. The Rated R Superstar couldn’t be anymore over, and the day he finally wins the Universal title will be a grand day indeed.
Fans care about Liv Morgan, but not so much for Alexa Bliss.
Despite all the build and character development for Alexa Bliss, it hasn’t translated in to crowd reactions because no one knows what to make of it. Do we cheer or boo? No one knows. It’s a mystery. Maybe we’ll find out when Bray Wyatt finally comes back? On the other side of the coin, Liv Morgan has hardly any time to develop, but because she’s the last of the Riott Squad, the fans have taken a liking to her because she finally found her voice. She’s kinda cute too, which might have something to do with it? Let’s see what happens if she were to beat Nikki A.S.H for the title.
Omos doesn’t completely suck like we might have assumed.
Turns out being paired with a dude called “The Phenomenal One” does wonders for your career. Not only can he carry you and cover any weaknesses, but his mentoring fast tracks you to work better than other immobile giants of the past. The fact the WWE Universe didn’t crap all over his work is what they were hoping for, and he’s even showing some charisma, which I’m not sure many weren’t expecting.
The crowd sold Bobby Lashley’s dominant win.
Lashley’s dominance over Kofi Kingston did not surprise me, but I was more so by the reaction in the crowd. They couldn’t believe how Bobby dismantled the former WWE Champion, and this really helped him, because had they just sat there and no-sold it, or if we had no crowd at all, the moment wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective. Having a live crowd can do this for a match.
“You Deserve It!” Big E.
Wow! This was probably my favorite moment of the past week. You could tell how much it meant to him and the fans. It was a crowning moment, the biggest win of his career to date. The fans eat it up because Big E is so gifted and genuine with everything he does; it was about time he got something. It’s like time stood still. He didn’t want to leave the moment because he knew it wasn’t getting much better than this. Well, not til he becomes a WWE Champion. Just imagine how he will feel after doing that!
Despite all the reports, fans still popped for John Cena’s entrance. They had just endured the insufferable defeat of Edge in a slow paced contest, so to have the energy to mark out for one of WWE’s most accomplished (& controversial) figures is what it’s all about. It’s refreshing to hear fans enjoying what we’re getting, instead of being cynical and poking holes everything for the sake of it.
Yeah, he’s not doing much these days, aside from being another manager on the books for AEW, but we haven’t seen him on a big show in so long he got a really warm reception. It’s nice to know he’s still around and has something to offer, even if it’s just giving advice to the next generation. After all, if Eddie Guerrero was still alive, he’d be teaching all these young stars how to do it, and Chavo is the only one who can pass (it’s not like Vickie was a wrestler on the road with him) on things he learned from Latino Heat.
When you work hardcore death matches, you really want a crowd. Without that, it’s just two guys making each other bleed on TV. Doing it in front of an audience, you have kids watching who will remember how sick it is for the rest of their days. They will look back on it differently, because it’s probably the first time they have experienced anything like it in person. The adults have seen it all before, but the kids are going to school and telling their friends how they watched two grown men beat the **** out of each other til they bled out all over the ring. They forked each other in the head like it’s nothing. This is the difference between having a crowd and not, because word of mouth brings in new fans just like the old days.
The pandemic grabbed the remote, put wrestling on mute, and then hid it from us. And this past couple of weeks, the fans have found their voice again, and I couldn’t be happier. You can see it in the body language of the wrestlers, they love being able to perform and hear us again. Hopefully, the mute button is never to be pressed again. Which moments did you enjoy the most from the past week? And this concludes wrestling thoughts, please let me know if you’d like more next week. Thanks for reading!