Welcome to Hard Time Blues: The World of Pro Wrestling from Merry-Go-Round Magazine! It’s a great time to get into professional wrestling. In each Hard Time Blues feature, MGRM contributors Luke Phillips and Max Flynn will be exploring the wild, weird, and wooly world of the squared circle, and all of the angles, feuds, gossip, and evil wizards therein.
This week, they’ll be recapping the week of June 26th through July 2nd, 2022, including: AEW x NJPW’s FORBIDDEN DOOR pay-per-view, AEW’s BLOOD AND GUTS 2022 on both DYNAMITE and RAMPAGE, including the Royal Rampage, as well as WWE’s Money in The Bank premium live event.
Luke Phillips: Obviously a pretty packed week in professional wrestling, between the two pay-per-views and essentially two TV pay-per-views. An interesting week as well with both AEW and WWE using the limitations of having a lot of their top roster injured as a strength, pulling the trigger on guys who could use a push but weren’t necessarily next in line, per se.
Maxwell Flynn: Absolutely, like giving people trial runs; people who can make the most of it too.
LP: Some of that stuff creates the best professional wrestling. We’ve seen it time and again over the last couple decades, where top stars get benched and people have to rise to the challenge and it can turn out some interesting developments.
MF: My match of the night was probably the opening bout. Minoru Suzuki and Le Sex Gods, Chris Jericho and Sammy Guevara vs. Eddie Kingston, Shota Umino, and Wheeler Yuta. They really set the stage for the show, continuing the beef between Jericho and Umino from New Japan and Jericho and Kingston in AEW while really delivering an intense match.
LP: FORBIDDEN DOOR had the enviable task of also setting up BLOOD & GUTS, which I think it did pretty effectively. I think the overall story for FORBIDDEN DOOR was that for as much as the build was kind of a disaster but they pulled it together, their limitations became an advantage, and it wound up being a great pay-per-view!
MF: I’m really interested in the continuation of the Jericho/Umino storyline. Umino has been wrestling around the world on excursions, making a name for himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t get a one-on-one match against Jericho sooner rather than later… maybe potentially at Wrestle Kingdom this year.
LP: Putting Umino—Moxley’s Young Boy—in this match also deepens the relationships between AEW and NJPW. It kind of makes it “all roads lead through Moxley.” You have Moxley and Kingston’s friendship, which is kind of the glue that holds BLOOD & GUTS together.
Moxley as Interim Champion
LP: Its funny to consider that even though it was the main event, and Moxley vs. Tanahashi is one of the big dream matches on the card, it’s certainly one of Moxley’s own personal dream matches… I feel like it was kind of overshadowed by other matches on the card. I wouldn’t say that Tanahashi/Moxley was underwhelming, and obviously the finish is great. Everyone is stoked that Mox is the interim champ and it makes a lot of sense, but it kind of feels like this was a Make-A-Wish match for Moxley in a way.
MF: Yeah, like they kind of just gave him a match he’d wanted to do for a while. On paper the rest of the card looked like it could be underwhelming, and this match was kind of a standout, but in actuality the rest of the card truly delivered and this match did get overshadowed by the performances elsewhere. Doing a lot of multiman matches earlier in the evening really helped business. It allowed New Japan and AEW to slam more guys into each match, where each of those dudes were going to get their shit in.
LP: They were all crazy spotfests!
MF: And they worked! They all worked very well.
Orange Cassidy vs. Will Ospreay
LP: When they announced Orange Cassidy vs. Ospreay I think a lot of people had a question mark over their heads, and I’m not an Ospreay fan, but I kind of thought “Oh, Orange is going to be able to have a parody of an Ospreay match and like, Bugs Bunny him the entire match.” and HE DID! And it became close to a 5-star match. It made me come away with a greater appreciation for Ospreay as a worker. Last weekend I watched Ospreay vs. Nick Wayne [from GCW I NEVER LIKED YOU] and it was stupid, it was the complete opposite match. It was both of them just doing finishers in sync with each other and obviously planned out spots. It was stupid and self indulgent.
MF: For sure, that match had zero nuance to it, it was incredibly self gratifying. People compare professional wrestling to something like jazz, matches often come together on the fly with spots being called between the wrestlers during the match, but I don’t get that vibe from big Ospreay matches. It always feels like he’s sitting down and planning out his matches.
LP: He’s like a “spot savant.” Like him and a Kenny Omega, and these other wrestlers that he’s modeling himself after, post-Kenny Omega wrestlers—he’s spot for spot doing stringent planning. It’s kind of like shredding on the guitar, he’s the Yngwie Malmsteen of professional wrestling. Sometimes that shit is very annoying. But with that being said, my pick for Sports Entertainer of the Week would have to be Orange Cassidy. Having an incredible match at FORBIDDEN DOOR and then parlaying that into an incredible opening match on DYNAMITE. A great showcase TV match for him, they brought back “Jane” by Jefferson Starship, his old theme from the indies, and seemed to be reintroducing the more indie-spot Orange Cassidy stuff. He even did the orange juice spot on Dan Lambert. It was a more indie-style Orange Cassidy match on Dynamite, which was really cool.
MF: I saw Lambert come out with the orange juice and I was already anticipating it!
LP: It’s not like he hasn’t been doing his indie gimmick on TV anyway…
MF: Yeah, it wasn’t a reinvention of Orange Cassidy, but a reintroduction. He came out with the Best Friends again, which people had worried had gotten split up, but it turned out the Roppongi Vice stuff was just a way to get Rocky Romero on television to build FORBIDDEN DOOR. But with Orange’s sort of return to form I think it’s very cool that Tony Khan saw these wrestlers pre-AEW and said “I like that. I want that for AEW.” vs. the WWE format where they see a wrestler and say “That person is talented, we can reshape them, we can make them fit in our mold.”
LP: And there’s something about Orange, obviously there are wrestling purists that fucking hate him for really dumb reasons, but the genius of the Orange Cassidy gimmick is that it’s such a stupid simple premise and its SO easy to get. He’s like deconstructing professional wrestling. Oh, he’s a slacker and he puts his hands in his pockets but he’s incredibly technically gifted and is like a high flyer.
MF: One of the small changes from his indie gimmick that I like is that on the indies those slow half-hearted kicks and strikes he does were devastating, they were sold as being powerful blows, but in AEW everyone shrugs them off and they lead to a devastating strike.
LP: Oh yeah, they’re feints. He’s doing taunting, it’s like the Jigglypuff taunts in SUPER SMASH BROS., Jigglypuff basically runs the ropes essentially… but even my dad, who doesn’t watch wrestling, was like, “that guy Orange Cassidy, that’s pretty funny,” like even he gets it!
BLOOD AND GUTS 2022
LP: So I saw this one in-person. I had a really great view, I was up on the mezzanine. It was a truly epic spectacle to witness live. So good, even in spite of real injuries, Santana actually hurting himself over the course of the match…
MF: Pretty early in the match at that…
LP: And now there’s weird rumors online that he’s not happy with his contract and stuff. I don’t know how much of that is worked or not. It’s a shame if it’s true. I’ve always felt like Santana and Ortiz deserved a bigger push. Even as good as this angle has been, they should be the ones that are most bloodthirsty towards Jericho but they’ve even been kind of pushed aside in what started out as their own angle, because of the star power of the people around them.
MF: They’ve always had a huge TV presence, they’ve been involved in a lot of the bigger angles AEW has done, but they’ve just never gotten the push to the actual tag titles, which has to be frustrating to a certain degree.
LP: In kayfabe they’ve beaten FTR, they’ve taken the Bucks to their limit, they’re one of those teams on the deep tag team roster that never got the trigger pulled on them like they probably deserved and that could be leading to some real friction. Besides all that, Santana’s real injury essentially gave Kingston, Ortiz, and the Blackpool Combat Club a handicap in the match, but the match was still spectacular.
MF: I liked it more than BLOOD AND GUTS 2021, I felt like it told a more convincing story. And Claudio really got a showcase. Him knocking Sammy around then credibly taking on Sammy and Daniel Garcia together, he’s a great addition to the Blackpool Combat Club. And Kingston, when he entered the match with the kendo stick, just clearing dudes out with one-handed swings. It was pretty funny…
LP: I was rewatching the video of that yesterday, and obviously I was marking out as it was happening in the arena! I was losing my mind.
MF: I imagine watching live was so cool, but the way it was shot for television was incredible. There was this shot of Angelo Parker, covered in blood, hanging upside down by his legs on the girder structure holding the cage together… it was intense!
LP: The people in the audience were beside themselves, they were going nuts! Claudio was milking it. I think that the story of the match is just Claudio just being completely unleashed and proving himself for the first time on DYNAMITE in a main event, and he’s given a Blood And Guts match you know? And this is kind of getting ahead of ourselves but the finish was perfect too. Eddie has Jericho in the same submission that he tapped him out with at Revolution and then Claudio steals the win from him and Eddie is beside himself even though they’re still victorious…
MF: I love that progression. I think they’re telling a story with Eddie about a man who can never be happy with himself even when he’s technically coming out on top…
LP: Eddie is already a loose canon, how much more can you break him? This might create a boiling point… I was hoping the relationship between Ediie and Mox was going to be explored a little bit more in this match, but now Moxley might have to choose between the BCC or his friendship with Kingston. Maybe it will lead to another title program between Eddie and Moxley, while they build towards the inevitable unification match with Punk once he’s healthy.
MF: Especially since AEW loves to do “the challenger takes on all of the champion’s friends building to their match,” Kingston can get his match with Claudio, which would lead to a match with Wheeler, all building towards Kingston/Mox 2.
LP: The possibilities are endless!
MF: I’m seeing that people are mad again about the amount of blood and violence in AEW… about the broken glass and skewers and thumbtacks being used as weapons… I think it’s bad ass and it rules.
LP: The match is called “Blood and Guts!” It’s so sick. They’re just giving each other crimson masks, not dangerous deathmatch spots. They were able to call an audible immediately after Santana was unable to compete in the rest of the match. These aren’t dangerous deathmatch spots. Once Santana hurt his knee there were things that stuck out, like Ortiz and Eddie were setting up a table and I thought “Was that supposed to be Santana and Ortiz setting up that table?” You gotta think about how much weight was being pulled and how much of the match was scrapped because they were down a man.
MF: I really liked Sammy hopping around on the ropes, bouncing from one ring to the other in order to escape Claudio. He’s such a good little shit character. I’m so glad he’s a heel again because he just does it so well!
LP: Re-ingratiating him with the Jericho Appreciation Society was such a great move and slotting him back into that role as the weird spot monkey climbing around in the ring, and eventually getting his comeuppance by going through the announce table, that was great. I love Sammy and Daniel Garcia together…
MF: Make them a tag team!
LP: Yeah, oh my god they’d be great. They were awesome getting whipped around by Claudio. Daniel Garcia in the durag was incredible… Shit, it’s crazy that once Moxley got in the match it was basically Dean Ambrose meets Cesaro meets Jack Swagger, and they made it all work. They really turned the “sports entertainment” on in the middle of a cage match and it just got more and more gnarly as it went on, with Mox introducing the plunder. I loved all the stages of the match, Claudio and Wheeler doing fun synchronized striking spots together, then when they brought in all of the Blackpool Combat Club it shifted again. Even without Danielson you can see how they work together… when Danielson is back they’re going to be having wild four-man tags!
Royal Rampage Match
LP: The live Detroit crowd wasn’t even prepared to see a 30-minute, 20-man Royal Rumble-style match for the RAMPAGE taping following Blood and Guts.
MF: I really liked the Royal Rampage! I liked the two ring situation. Having 10 guys in each ring and the winners of each side of the ring coming together in the end.
LP: That was not clear live, but people figured it out eventually. It led to some funny scenarios. Keith Lee and Swerve on opposite rings—so Swerve couldn’t swerve on Keith again like he did in the last AEW rumble match. It kind of preserved both of them and kept the Team Taz angle; Hobbs and Starks were ganging up on Keith, while Swerve is being established as a babyface who is a huge untrustworthy shithead in rumble matches.
MF: If you’re in a multi-man match with him, WATCH OUT! He’s a good guy, but you need to watch your back…
LP: He’ll swerve you!! Skrrrrtt.
MF: I loved the “will they/won’t they eliminate each other” work between John Silver and Hangman Page. That was very funny. I wonder if that’s teasing a potential feud down the line where Hangman has to fight his friends.
LP: They’ve pared down the Dark Order and they seem like contenders for the eventual Trios belts. If they were introducing Trios belts, it makes sense for there to be a program with the Undisputed Elite vs. the Bucks and…Hangman? There’s different ways you could slice that. They can still do that, once UE come back from injury, but you also need a schism with the Dark Order to get there. You also had Matt Hardy coming back. The Butcher and The Blade were pretty dominant in the Blue squared circle. I think this was Matt’s first match since Jeff…
MF: Yeah, it was his first match rolling solo again. He had to face down some of his demons, personified in his former goons The Butcher & The Blade.
LP: Facing the MERCENARIES The Butcher & The Blade, who BETRAYED him. Matt looked good! He got eliminated by The Butcher & The Blade, but he had some good spots and had a good upper arm feat of strength holding onto the ropes before getting thrown over. Some fun spots throughout. Darby and Brody in the end there was brutal. Darby was getting ragdolled the entire match, in Darby fashion.
MF: When Brody threw Darby between the two ropes, it was just like a car crash.
LP: Takeshita had some time to shine. That was super fun—I love him.
MF: He needs to get a shot at that All Atlantic Championship ASAP. Do it in DDT! You can defend the belt internationally.
LP: I saw PAC will be defending it at RevPro. I’d love to see Takeshita vs. PAC, that’d be killer. Super fun rumble overall tho.
MF: I think giving Brody the shot, giving him a chance to shine outside the House of Black, is very cool.
LP: He wasn’t in the Top 5 contenders in AEW rankings, so it’s especially cool. It was a credible choice. Having it go down to Brody and Darby and putting Brody over Darby makes sense because Brody and Darby have history against each other since the indies. There’s a Street Fight LA no-ring match between Brody and Darby from several years ago.
AEW Women’s Division
LP: It was good that there was a women’s main event on RAMPAGE this week. I like pairing Nyla with Marina Shafir.
MF: I’ve been watching Dark and Dark Elevation, and they’ve been doing more women’s tag team matches. They’ve also been pairing Mercedes Martinez and Serena Deeb. They both work really well as tag teams. I don’t think they’ll introduce a Women’s Tag belt at any time soon – but they seem to have the Thunder Rosa and Toni Storm team (“ThunderStorm”) coalescing as well.
LP: AEW’s women’s tag division is basically in the exact same state as WWE’s, where they ostensibly have like one or two tag teams and a bunch of nebulous women who tag with one another on occasion.
MF: I wonder if Tony Khan figures he can book more women by just throwing them in tag team situations.
LP: That’s basically WWE’s approach: “We don’t have any current plans for them—let’s throw them together.”
MF: I think it’s working though, at least in AEW’s case.
LP: You also have Britt & Jamie Hayter ready to go for any women’s tag angles, as well. Good, combustible duo to be able to lean on and have in the chamber. Britt vs. Jamie is inevitable, but Jamie also has plenty of history with Toni since they both wrestled for Stardom.
WWE MONEY IN THE BANK 2022
Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
LP: I thought there was a pretty credible roster of women in the MITB match this year. Lacey Evans is maybe the odd duck, but they’re clearly trying to give her another push at the moment after she was out for a while. Everyone served their purpose. Y’know, as much as I love Shotzi Blackheart, she kept botching a LOT. I think she hurt herself legitimately too. She looked fucked up by the end of the match. Not a good look I don’t think!
MF: I was watching it with my wife’s co-workers and a couple of my friends. Shotzi was over, everybody was over! Raquel Rodriguez was the standout though, everyone loves a giantess!
LP: Shotzi was over, but I think it was the corset she was wrestling in. Her ring gear didn’t seem conducive to the kind of spots she usually does in the ring. She does Darby Allin spots, essentially, and you can’t do that shit in a corset. They need to bring back her old Rat Fink look.
MF: My wife pointed out that WWE has a better presentation for their women’s roster overall—mostly because they actually give women’s matches some proper space on the card, but also because the wrestlers have more definitive personalities. I know you’ve said WWE’s women’s division has been their best asset in the last several years. It’s cool that it’s apparent even to the casual wrestling fan. At least WWE is doing SOMETHING right.
LP: More so than in AEW, the women in WWE have more defined characters. And, there’s currently a good pool of veteran women on the roster who have spent years developing fanbases and getting themselves over, and who have legitimate history. Alexa Bliss and Liv Morgan are fan favorite wrestlers. That was rewarded tonight! You also had several women’s champions involved, including Asuka and Becky Lynch continuing their feud throughout the match. There was a lot of interesting matchups and spots and I think it was satisfying enough overall. It wasn’t the most technically sound match and there were several botches, but overall it mostly worked, and Liv winning in the finish is a great idea. Liv deserves it!
MF: She definitely deserves it! She’s improved so much over the last couple of years.
LP: She’s a member of the Bullet Club! We gotta make a Liv Morgan Bullet Club shirt. I’m really happy for Liv. It’s interesting to consider if Sasha was around if she would have been involved – I wonder if Shotzi took Sasha’s spot. You gotta wonder: “Where is Sasha?” She’s the MJF style wild card in this situation.
MF: Summer of Sasha!
LP: Raquel Gonzalez (I refuse to call her Raquel Rodriguez) had some good showcase spots throughout the match. I liked her vs. Alexa Bliss—big vs. smol. And Michale Cole making the call ALEXA BLISS THE VETERAN. Becky seemed to overshoot a legdrop and ended up Super Mario style ground-pounding Asuka on the ladder—taking the Toni Storm butt bump to a whole other level. Asuka was a lot of fun in the match.
“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey (c.) vs. Natalya / Liv Morgan
Women’s Smackdown Championship Match
LP: I think Rosey vs. Natalya was more fun than I expected. It kind of ended up being a student vs. teacher match since Natalya trained Ronda in pro wrestling. I think Natalya leaning into a goofier heel gimmick that shows more of her personality is a good move. This was basically more of a technical wrestling match than Zach Sabre Jr. vs. Claudio Castagnoli was at FORBIDDEN DOOR. Overall, it did the job in terms of setting up the eventual contract cash-in from Liv Morgan and have Liv take the belt off of her.
MF: The immediate cash-in is one of my favorite established WWE tropes now. It’s just instant serotonin for me.
LP: It’s kind of like the Triplemania women’s luchas de apuestas angle we discussed before.
MF: Yeah, the result of one match setting up an angle within the pay-per-view itself.
LP: Money in the Bank PPVs can create some interesting new angles and develop some cool opportunities with hotshot booking. Now Liv is champion and the possibilities are endless! Does she feud with Ronda? Does she feud with Charlotte? Who knows?!
MF: I hated that extremely weird Alexa Bliss commercial for the WWE Capitol One card. Just weird, unsettling vibes. That creepy doll sells, I guess!
LP: I don’t really get it. I guess she’s a face now at least? She’s just the regular Alexa Bliss gimmick, except she has a symbiotic relationship with an evil magical doll under control. That’s pro wrestling, folks! We’ll see how that pans out. I’d like to see Alexa Bliss vs. Liv Morgan!
The Usos (c.) vs. The Street Profits
Undisputed Tag Team Championship Match
LP: Very compelling match for the undisputed WWE tag team championship. I think the Usos are such an impressive team—both teams are champions and veterans and have been holding the tag team division together for several years—I think they’ve faced each other ad infinitum! You can pair them together and they can still get put together decent matches because of their sheer in-ring ability. They seem like they’re poised to push Montez Ford as a singles competitor soon, and that was part of the drama of this match, but at the end of the day The Street Profits are simply one of the best tag teams in the world right now. They held the titles down during quarantine. Obviously the Usos are on an unprecedented run, as well. Both teams came out looking like absolute monsters. I think you can put this match against any AEW tag team match – or any dream match scenario with FTR or the Bucks. Hell, the Usos have a history with FTR.
MF: Definitely. Not only did both teams come out looking great in-ring—it was an incredible match and I figured it could go either way several times throughout. There was the fuckery with the ref and the finish at the end that only added to it. You can argue who won or not. I think they could continue working on this angle and develop it. If they had a stipulation match at Summerslam, or lead to the tension between the Street Profits.
LP: It was interesting how they were positioning Montez Ford vs. Jey Uso as this like huge potential singles competitor, an aspiring singles competitor, vs. a tag guy who has veteran singles push experience. It was really cool. Angelo vs. Jimmy as the muscle was good too. Two incredible teams and a great match.
Men’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
MF: You mentioned both companies rising to the challenge of injuries on the roster… I don’t think Madcap Moss would have had a spot in this match if the roster wasn’t looking so thin due to injury.
LP: Yeah, totally, and the roster was already looking pretty thin after all the talent cuts. But I definitely felt like both the men’s and women’s Money in the Bank matches had pretty credible lists of competitors. Even with Vince stepping down as CEO in real life, in kayfabe Vince is still puppeteering things behind the scenes… which makes me think he’s for shoot puppeteering things!
MF: They’ve done a good job of putting a new face in front of the audience, interim CEO Stephanie McMahon…
LP: PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!! So obviously the story of the Money in the Bank match this year is that you have one of the most credible pool of current WWE championship contenders all competing, but through literal and kayfabe backstage chicanery, Austin Theory gets added to the match after previously losing the U.S. Title to Bobby Lashley earlier in the pay-per-view. Theory then proceeded to be Loki and use tricks and chicanery to be the spoiler and win the contract. It’s very interesting to consider that with Vince currently undergoing several investigations for inappropriate behavior, the brain trust at WWE decided to position the young sex pest they’re obsessed with as the next Top Guy. They simply love to spite their audience. This match featured two sex pests including Matt Riddle!
MF: The story with Omos was great. Doing big guy shit, stepping over the ropes, throwing guys around, getting buried in ladders, the rest of the guys working together to finally take him out of the match by putting him through the announce table, they really utilized him well. I also love Sami Zayn’s devotion to The Bloodline, wearing their shirt and promising if he wins to not cash in on Roman.
LP: That’s a great angle—Sami and Kevin Owens have both been putting in such good work this calendar year – they’ve 100% deserved their pay raises.
MF: Sami making himself as small as possible to hide behind the ringpost while Omos was tearing through people.. Sami is extremely entertaining to watch.
LP: In a way, Theory was patterning himself after Sami, and it ended up being Sami vs. Theory climbing up the ladder in the finish – the two tricksters. But overall, some good spots with Sheamus and Drew. I liked Butch/Pete Dunne getting involved but it gave me deja vu over similar spots from the awful Royal Rumble this year. I basically tuned out all of the Matt Riddle stuff in the match because he has credible evidence to suggest he is a sex pest.
MF: That’s their prerogative, giving the worst people backstage pushes. They can do whatever they want with Theory.
LP: All the boys in the back have such a hard-on for Theory right now. I think Austin Theory is a whitebread combination of all four of AEW’s Four Young Pillars. I can back this up like so:
– Same hair, annoying personality, vlogger, natural heel, as Sammy Guevara
– Legitimate heat, backstage influence like MJF
– Young & jacked for a cruiserweight like Jungle Boy
– Credibly confirmed as a sex pest like Darby Allin
Ultimately, despite a solid show overall, Theory coming out of this premium live event reflects WWE’s tried and true approach – when the chips are down, there is nowhere they cannot sink or stoop to. Vince is a sex pest, the boys in the back are sex pests, and now their young sex pest ward has a championship contract at the ready. The more things change, the more they stay the same.