Hard Time Blues: The World of Pro Wrestling

Vince McMahon Stepping Down and RIC FLAIR’S LAST MATCH Put Wrestling at an Exciting Crossroads

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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 July 22nd, 2022 to July 31st, 2022, starting with the retirement of WWE chairman Vince McMahon and ending with the pay-per-view event RIC FLAIR’S LAST MATCH.

Luke Phillips: Understatement of the year, but it’s been a pretty crazy few weeks in wrestling. I think the place to start is Vincent K. McMahon retiring from WWE as chairman and stepping down as head of creative.

Maxwell Flynn: Absolutely unceremoniously. No grandeur.

LP: It’s still something that I’m… reeling from? I don’t even know how to react to it, because I don’t think it’s something anyone even anticipated. It’s just so… we’re in such uncharted territory now. A post-Vince, post-Ric Flair world of wrestling.

MF: It’s something that everybody assumed would never happen, because everyone assumed Vince wouldn’t be gone until he literally died. He had a stranglehold on the entire WWE, the largest televised wrestling company, the standard of which nonfans judge the rest of the industry. They’re already saying some of his weird lingo rules and words you can and can’t say are slipping away.

LP: I think it’s only a good thing.

MF: Absolutely! In my opinion, it’ll only modernize the WWE.

LP: The opportunity for how this creates competition with AEW, y’know… it’s going to be interesting to see things play out! On one hand, prior to this, you had AEW in a position to completely overtake the WWE. And now I think they’ll really be put to the test. I think, almost, AEW has more work to do from here on out to compete with that WWE audience, because for SURE WWE will be competing with them. We know that’s going to happen now.

MF: You gotta imagine there’s a portion of the audience who stopped watching WWE because of Vince’s influence on it, so their ratings are probably going to jack right up within the next month or so, as people go back to “Aww, I’ll go back to watching it.”

LP: It’s no longer a Wednesday Night War. It’s AEW vs the entire WWE content factory. How do they compete with that? I don’t think AEW has a very airtight “come over to us, we’ll give you the creative freedom that WWE won’t…” pitch to new wrestler hires. Now that you have Triple H in charge of creative, he’s already re-signing talent fired by Vince and calling talent up to the main roster that probably weren’t going to be considered under Vince. How many wrestlers knew that maybe something like this was potentially in the works and bided their time? I’m talking about a Bray Wyatt or a Johnny Gargano.

MF: Johnny Gargano is who came to mind for me. I don’t know if he had any inkling Triple H was going to come back, but I’m glad no one scooped him up beforehand.

LP: Exactly! AEW has signed and utilized Bryan Danielson and a lot of former WWE guys in great ways, and those guys seem happy being at AEW, but even for a Bryan Danielson… if Bryan Danielson knew this is going to happen a year ago, do you think he would have signed with AEW?

MF: Right. I don’t think CM Punk would ever go back. I don’t think Moxley will go back. Danielson was a good company guy and literally has family in WWE, but I think AEW should be more concerned with wrestlers not re-signing, AEW Originals and Pillars not re-signing and jumping ship to WWE at this point.

LP: Totally, totally! 

MF: It only makes sense that Triple H will go back to hiring indie guys. He sees that that’s good for the business, and is drawing new eyes to the product.

LP: It’ll be interesting to see who gets bidding wars over them. It’s kind of a foregone conclusion that MJF is probably top of that list, probably. There’s a bunch of other guys who could probably create bidding wars between the two companies around themselves. Very exciting to see it happen! The crazy thing is, on top of the Vince news, there were no less than three pay-per-views in the past week, covering a wide berth here. Not only did you have the Ring of Honor DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR pay-per-view, which was essentially re-establishing the Ring of Honor brand under the new ownership of Tony Khan; but you also had WWE’s SummerSlam event—usually their biggest pay-per-view event of the year behind Wrestlemania and the Royal Rumble, and their big event of the summer. This also marks the first WWE premium live event since Vince retired, which is a milestone unto itself. There was also the insane, Frankenstein’d last minute RIC FLAIR’S LAST MATCH PPV, which we’ll get to. That was its own Forbidden Door of talent from across the wrestling spectrum. 

MF: The past two weeks of AEW programming has also been essentially television pay-per-views—named annual events Fyter Fest and Fight for the Fallen.

LP: The Shark Week gimmick!

MF: There’s just been an unprecedented amount of professional wrestling this week.

Ring of Honor's Death Before Dishonor image

Ring of Honor
DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR 

AEW DYNAMITE
Fyter Fest and Fight for the Fallen

LP: Obviously, DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR this year was notable for Claudio Castagnoli becoming the new ROH world champion, I guess infamously taking that belt from Jonathan Gresham. It was kind of a letdown of a match, kind of just a means to get the belt on Claudio and off of Gresham.

MF: Look, I’ll say it: it was maybe a little disrespectful.

LP: It was maybe a little disrespectful to Gresham, but it is what it is.

MF: That’s the business.

LP: Claudio is who he is. The sticking point of that entire ordeal and match—Gresham is a fine wrestler, and a fine technical wrestler, and held the ROH belt as champion in their last several months where they were basically dying as a company, traveling with the belt from promotion to promotion. Is it a little unceremonious and a slap in the face to him? Yeah, sure. But you also have a guy like Claudio, a wrestler’s wrestler who is also a Superstar on top of that. He’s got all kinds of star power and charisma and he’s just a better total package than Jonathan Gresham. Nine times out of 10… maybe 10 times out of 10, even, you’re going to pick Claudio over Gresham. Gresham just doesn’t have ‘it,’ he doesn’t have the X factor that Claudio does!

MF: Gresham is talented in the ring, but you’re right in that he doesn’t have the “it” factor. His wrestling is impressive to see in and of itself, but I don’t think there’s a “hook” for it. He’s a bland guy otherwise. He’s kind of like a Zack Sabre Jr., but at least Zack Sabre Jr. is a WEIRDO. Jonathan Gresham is just like… wrestling, Wrestling, Squid Mask… I don’t even know. He’s a guy who wrestles well who sometimes wears a squid mask.

LP: He was coming out in the squid mask on AEW TV and he just looks like a super deformed Cthulhu because he’s like five feet tall and you think to yourself, “Why does he put on the squid mask?” It makes him look so dumb. Just to keep going through the card, there was a great match for the ROH Pure championship between Wheeler Yuta and Daniel Garcia, which helped set up Daniel Garcia beating Bryan Danielson in his first match back since injury, in a crazy upset. It was the main event on the July 27th episode of Dynamite. Yuta also got a main event on this past week’s DYNAMITE against Chris Jericho. Great for Garcia, great for Yuta too!

MF: It was a great match between them at Death Before Dishonor. There was a lot more brawling than you’d expect to see in a Pure Rules match. They teased bringing the pure rules into the match, but I think ultimately one person used one rope break the entire match.

LP: It was white-knuckle, smash-mouth stuff. It was paying off a rivalry that’s been building since at least a year ago, when they wrestled each other for the IWTV belt, right around the time they both signed to AEW. Great culmination of that. I think Wheeler looked great. Wheeler came to AEW fresh off the indies a year, and he’s been proving himself and getting himself over match by match in AEW.

MF: You can see him tighten up every match, and finesse what he was doing before into this spectacular performance that he’s got now.

LP: People are so over for Yuta, it’s great to see! He’s a talented guy, and a great wrestler, and I think he has a lot of upside from here. The same can be said about Garcia!!

MF: I’ll take that as a throughline to talk about Garcia/Danielson—that match was incredible as well. I kind of didn’t know what they were going for in the first half. Commentary by Jericho was a little heavy handed. He kept selling Danielson’s injury and at first I was like, “This dude’s an asshole!” Then the match kind of caught up with it, and Bryan actually started selling his injury. It was weird! I was going from “This match isn’t great” to “This match is okay” to “This match is fantastic” throughout the length of the match.

LP: The selling that Danielson was doing was stressing me out so much, but that’s part of the story of the match! It’s brilliant. It’s really brilliant from a storytelling perspective. Like, oh yeah, OF COURSE Garcia was at BLOOD AND GUTS, Garcia just came hot off this ROH title match with Yuta, GARCIA has the momentum going into the match. Danielson was injured! He’s coming back from injury, and he had a little ring rust. That bore out in the match. It doesn’t matter if this is the greatest pro wrestler who lives…

MF: He’s still human. You hear about momentum a lot in professional wrestling. They use the term a lot, and sure a win means you continue your momentum and stuff, but that never really resonated with me. Doing a match like this where, yes, he’s got the momentum, but having Bryan Danielson lose in this match cemented that term in the storying and in kayfabe and on commentary, cutting promos, and such. All of it.

LP: It adds so many layers and threads, so many needles. Initially, you had Danielson mention Garcia by name when the Blackpool Combat Club was first forming as a younger talent he wanted to take under his wing. A guy he saw potential in and had his eye on. Garcia and Danielson did promos talking about wanting to wrestle each other. For Garcia to then join the Jericho Appreciation Society and start being branded and portraying himself as a “sports entertainer” while still presenting himself as a pure pro wrestler in the style of a Bryan Danielson or Randy Orton. To have him beat Danielson—through cheating—but still sports entertaining his way to victory.

MF: One of the more appealing parts of that match to me is that he looked disgusted with himself after he won. There was a weird moment where he did the DDT on the outside of the ring where he looked proud of himself, but he also looked scared. It wasn’t a “How can I be so violent??” face, it was a “I shouldn’t be doing this…” face. It was incredible. Maybe one of my favorite matches in the past couple months just from a pure storytelling perspective.

LP: It was just a very weird, funky match. I think I was initially underwhelmed by it… I kind of got worked, but then I realized it just took a recalibration on my part to appreciate it. Obviously someone who’s a GOAT like Bryan is going to be able to pull stuff like that off.

MF: The storytelling was almost in your face, when normally it’s like “The shoulder’s getting worked this whole match!”

LP: You don’t always anticipate that much *story* in a Danielson match. He’s more of a pure wrestler who lets the wresting speak for itself and puts on incredible matches.

MF: He just has good matches, he doesn’t do the full-on, theatrical performance throughout it.

LP: Great stuff there, and really tantalizing to see where things go from here. You’d think the sell-by date on the Jericho Appreciation Society vs. the Blackpool Combat Club would be starting to hit its peak, but no—I think it only continues to be a good feud and angle, and has so many possibilities to go from here. Just to put a pin in DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR, I’d be remiss to not mention the FTR vs. Briscoes main event tag team match. Their second match together and a rematch after taking the ROH tag belts off of the Briscoes in April. Obviously, they had a great, five-star match. I don’t know if I liked it as much as the first one, but obviously FTR are kind of on an undeniable streak right now. They are 100% being positioned and regarded as the #1 tag team in the world, which is accolades and flowers they should have gotten a while ago. It’s a long overdue thing. They’re on a victory lap, of sorts. As faces, I think they sometimes run the risk of being a little corny, but there’s no doubt that they’re extremely over and able to put together matches that are objectively ceiling-breaking quality.

MF: Definitely. And they come out and do something different every time, as well. As good as the Young Bucks are, they’re great wrestlers, but they put on very similar matches.

LP: There’s kind of the “Young Bucks Match,” even though they can do a lot of different stuff, they tend to have similarly structured matches.

MF: I like when someone’s going out there and reinventing it every time.

LP: Totally. I forgot to mention! There was also the Samoa Joe vs. Jay Lethal ROH TV Title defense match. Also solid, I just hope Joe isn’t injured. He was looking good in the match, despite the question mark of potential injury. We love Joe. We’ll see how Ring of Honor gets integrated into the greater AEW Galaxy.

MF: I’ve been expecting a TV announcement or some kind of announcement there. It seems like they’ve had a lot of these guys on preheat for a while.

LP: I think the TV deal is still being shopped. I think it’s something Tony Khan is going to have to convince Warner Bros. Discovery to put stake in, which is at this point is way easier said than done.

MF: Take it on the road! Sell tickets and make it a YouTube show or something. They need to pull the trigger on it. 

LP: There’s a lot of things they could do. It’s interesting to think about. I know Tony Khan’s been adamant that it won’t be a developmental brand for AEW. He wants to keep it a brand unto itself and respect the history of the brand. As long as it continues to be featured on AEW TV, and as long as the rosters are practically the same, or full of AEW guys… you gotta think at one point there’s going to be a brand split.

MF: For sure. I just feel like—myself included—people are upset about signed AEW roster members not getting television time because they have to make room for all the Ring of Honor stuff going on. Like, sure, even if the Ring of Honor stuff was promoting a women’s match, there’s still the problem in AEW that their women don’t get enough time.

LP: I think it’s starting to become very noticeable that AEW can’t rotate the roster as effectively as it used to, and that’s even in spite of injuries sidelining a bunch of their top talent. The cup game of AEW featured guys is starting to break down. Malakai Black hasn’t wrestled on AEW TV in like a month. Where is he?

MF: Some people are injured, but there are also people who aren’t injured who just… aren’t around.

LP: It’s a two-edged sword, right? AEW has pulled off the maneuver of making most of the guys on their roster over. The majority of their roster is now made of wrestlers that fans love and want to see wrestle. The other side of that coin is that you need to be able to balance TV time for all these wrestlers that people love and want to see. Maybe they shouldn’t have put Adam Cole on TV every fucking week for months on end. I think that was a huge mistake.

MF: Yeah, maybe the Bucks don’t need a match every week. 

LP: Yeah! Even with the absence of Adam Cole and The Undisputed Elite, they’re still having problems featuring people. It’s only going to continue to be a huge issue for them. They don’t even have the time to feature the women’s matches! It’s definitely something to consider moving forward. How are they going to be able to maximize all of this? That’s not me praying for their downfall.

MF: Not at all! You gotta be able to criticize the things you enjoy.

LP: I think out of any promotion, AEW has adapted and responded to feedback and what reactions things are getting quicker than most other promotions, at least quicker than WWE does. They’re reactive in a way that WWE hasn’t been in, like… 20 years. At least since WWE became a monopoly. That’s another interesting thread to consider through all of this. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of cool things on the horizon and angles AEW is setting up. They’ve got the Trios belts and the Hangman/Bucks reunion and the potential implications and angles/feuds with the Dark Order and Undisputed Era. Personally, I would love to see Best Friends get the Trios belts.

MF: Totally. Either Best Friends or Dark Order would be my debut Trios title holders. Honestly, it might happen. The Hung Bucks/Elite and Undisputed Elite could foil each other and it leads to someone else getting the introductory title reign. I think the Best Friends or The Dark Order definitely deserve it. Something positive’s gotta happen for The Dark Order, since they just took Anna Jay out.

LP: Right, Anna Jay is now in the Jericho Appreciation Society. Which I don’t hate!

MF: It’s fine!

LP: It’s fine. Did you see Rampage the other week with the Anna Jay vs. Ruby Soho main event? That was fine. I dunno—I was just as excited as anyone when Ruby debuted in AEW almost a year ago, but I think that’s one signee where I don’t really know what’s going on. The excitement on Ruby has been almost completely squandered, and that’s partly on AEW being a shitshow when it comes to properly featuring and representing the women, but it’s also kind of on Ruby. She’s just never really broken out of the WWE style in AEW and it just hasn’t really lead to compelling matches with her or anyone else on the roster.

MF: I just don’t understand the story they’re trying to tell. I watch DARK, or DARK: ELEVATION a lot now, and the past few times she’s had matches on DARK the commentary has been like “She doesn’t look like she has a game plan!”, “She’s trying something new in this match and it isn’t a great match to try something new in,” she just seems kind of listless herself. I think it has something to do with not having enough TV time for all of the stars that you signed, cuz that just goes hand in hand with not being able to WIN all the time. If you’ve got so many people on your roster who are over, then half of them are going to be on losing streaks. Doing these DARK matches on YouTube… it’s fine to watch it. I put it on at work, and that’s an hour of wrestling I’m half-watching at my computer. That’s not compelling television for people. And it’s not their faves doing cool shit. It’s five to 10 minutes of squash match. You often know the outcome before the match even starts. Rarely is there a match on the YouTube shows where I go, “Huh, this could go either way!” Which is kind of bizarre! Thinking about it… it seems like a waste of my fucking time!

LP: That’s why I tend not to watch DARK or the YouTube shows, unless there’s a featured match, like the traveling title matches that have been on the YouTube shows the past couple weeks—you had Thunder Rosa vs. Miyu Yamashita Eliminator match, and the PAC/Shota Umino match for the All Atlantic Championship in the UK. Obviously the Rosa match lead to a title match on Dynamite, which… wasn’t great, unfortunately. I thought the Eliminator match was way better, in Japan. 

MF: It just goes to show, Thunder Rosa can work better… they both can work better, but I wonder if it’s just company constraints. 

LP: I think the biggest reason some of the Rosa matches aren’t really hitting as of late or why Rosa isn’t really working as champion like people are saying purely comes down to the amount of TV time spent. Giving ThunderStorm and Britt the tag match on this past week’s Dynamite and featuring it earlier in the show was like such a good change of pace, so maybe hiring Madison Rayne will be to AEW’s benefit ultimately. Regardless, there’s been time constraints that I don’t think Rosa has worked very well within. She always comes off rushed and like she’s hitting her marks for Allotted Women Time in the Midcard. It’s offensive, frankly! It’s obvious how much of an afterthought the women’s division is to everything else in AEW, and unfortunately it’s working against the talent themselves.

MF: I really hate Britt Baker’s whole bit now using insider terms and making a mockery of and dissing the product. It sucks! It’s not doing anybody any favors. Britt ultimately has the same problem as Adam Cole and the Undisputed Elite—for some reason, she always has to be around, her clique always has to be there, and I don’t think it’s doing anyone any favors.

LP: They’ve invested so much in Britt, and it worked out and she had a fine championship run. She has worked really well as a heel in the past, and she’s always done like the weird snark thing in promos, to varying degrees of success. It just seems like they had her lose the belt but immediately started featuring her as the star again. She essentially got a new belt when she won the Owen Hart Cup. And now she’s just like shooting on her coworkers in promos and making the whole product look bad. I don’t really get what they’re doing. Maybe that’s venting legitimate frustration, but even then WHY would you air it out on the actual show? Thunder Rosa coming out in a “Sandbagging Since 2014” shirt—I don’t want to hear the term “sandbagging” again for the rest of my life! Didn’t that Marina Shafir match happen like two months ago?? WHY do I have to hear about sandbagging every week on AEW TV? It seems like such a shitshow. It’s things like that which just make AEW look amateur. I think the most salient criticism of them is that compared to WWE, they’re fucking novices—they’re just starting this, they’re super green brother. With the women’s division, any changes they’ve made or efforts they’ve made in the past couple years have almost been completely cosmetic. Or not even working to their own benefit. They were teasing and building Rosa being champion for like a year, and now a year later Rosa is champion finally but who cares now. It took them an entire year to put the belt on her.

MF: They’re great at doing the chase, but once the chase is over, it’s just a honeymoon period and they let people flop.

LP: It’s kind of what happened with Hangman’s champ run. Unless you’re Jon Moxley, and you’re like a crazy tough babyface… I don’t think AEW has had a good track record with babyface champions.

MF: I’m worried that’s what’s going to happen with Wardlow. Wardlow had that great match with Orange Cassidy…

LP: I think it comes down to the angles and matches they set up for Wardlow. I think Wardlow’s over enough where they’d really have to fuck up the booking to fuck up his run as champ. I know I said they’re not good at doing babyface champs, but if you look at Cody’s initial TNT Title run, that was a modern classic run and one of the best title runs in AEW—when he had the open challenge.

MF: The open challenge! The fighting champion!

LP: If they had something like that with Wardlow, that’d be awesome! I think Wardlow is kind of hard to fuck up. That’s just someone that everyone acknowledges is someone you pull the trigger on and strap the rocket to.

WWE Summerslam image 2022

WWE SUMMERSLAM 2022

LP: Talking about the AEW women’s division is a good segue, BECAUSE… y’know, it’s funny. Putting the mirror to WWE, and the new Stephanie McMahon/Triple H regime. Obviously, under Steph and Trips’ stewardship the WWE has had a Women’s Revolution for nearly a decade, and that was not anymore indicative than in the opening contest of SummerSlam this year, which was Bianca Belair vs. Becky Lynch for the Raw Women’s Title. Bianca won the belt off of Becky at WrestleMania, and then the three-way match with her and Asuka at Hell in a Cell. Obviously, this time Becky vs Bianca was set-up as revenge for last year at SUMMERSLAM 2021, when Becky heeled out on Bianca and took the title off of her in a squash screwjob. I was there to watch it live. The crowd was not happy. I was not happy! I was there to see Sasha Banks, and I didn’t get that opportunity. Who knows when the next opportunity I’ll get to see Sasha Banks!

MF: Hopefully Wrestlemania in LA next year!

LP: That’s what I’m hoping! Talking about the Bianca/Becky match… I think, for the most part this year SummerSlam in totality was really a bunch of blowoff matches. For the most part, and from what some people are reporting, through SummerSlam Vince still had the book, and they were still essentially going off of Vince’s book for most of the show.

MF: They weren’t going to rewrite the show in the weeks between him resigning and SummerSlam.

LP: Obviously, there’s still some kinks to be worked out in the transition. I think a lot of people were enthusiastic about the new regime and graded the show on a curve. After that show, WWE still needs to prove themselves to me, I feel like I’m still yet to be truly impressed by the product again. That opening contest, however—looking at that, you’re seeing where the WWE excels with the women’s division over AEW. Hopefully it’ll lead to a second Evolution pay-per-view.

MF: That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. They’ve always talked about doing another one. Same thing, I wonder if Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have any intentions of bringing back the women’s tag team belts.

LP: I think now they’re in a position to refocus the women’s division—they’ve already brought Bayley back after a year away, and called up Dakota Kai and Io Shirai (who is now known as…”Iyo Skye”??) to the main roster.

MF: “Iyo Skye” is the final rib from Vince.

LP: It’s not that bad, all things considered. She is “The Genius of the Sky!” The match itself with Bianca and Becky… cromulent. It was a blowoff match. Becky targeted Bianca’s arm for most of the match, and Bianca persevered and won because she’s a great babyface and a genetic freak, and there was no way she was losing in Tennessee, where she’s from. The finish, with Bayley and Dakota and Io coming out was great and I can’t wait to see how they follow that up.

MF: One of the most exciting moments of that pay-per-view, I think!

LP: It was the single most exciting moment for me, but I’m a Bayley mark. Bayley has been one of my favorite wrestlers since NXT TAKEOVER: BROOKLYN. And Sasha too! Reports are saying a deal has been worked out for Sasha and Naomi to re-sign. That’s probably the best for everyone involved.

MF: Definitely. There wasn’t anywhere else that was going to contain them.

LP: Somewhere, Tony Khan is breathing a sigh of relief that he doesn’t have to book Sasha in opening contests or main events.

MF: He’d have to close down the video game division to pay for Sasha Banks.

LP: Even in the alternate universe where Sasha and Naomi sign to AEW… in what fucking world does Tony Khan book women anywhere else than the 8:30 midcard slot? It’s just unthinkable for AEW to do more than one or two women’s main events on DYNAMITE in a calendar year. With that being said, besides the cromulent Becky/Bianca opening contest… a lot of blowoff matches on this card.

MF: So many matches I could just give zero craps about. I don’t care about Logan Paul. I don’t really care about Pat McAfee.

LP: I like Pat McAfee as a commentator. I don’t know why he keeps having these pay-per-view midcard spotlight matches. Give me a Pat McAfee vs. Michael Cole match. If they were wrestling each other or in a tag match, that’s money.

MF: Get Taz on the line as a guest referee. 

LP: That was one thing I did notice at SummerSlam: an unchained Michael Cole. Cole was putting in work that I seemingly haven’t heard him put in in years.

MF: He was naming moves!

LP: He was naming moves. He was giving history. I think Michael Cole is an incredible commentator when he’s allowed to be. The knock against him really is all shit that he can’t help because he had Vince in his ear. He sounded great. But yeah, blowoff matches aplenty. Lashley vs. Theory—blowoff match. Blowoff match with the Mysterios vs. Judgement Day.

MF: Returning Gangrel Edge looked pretty cool.

LP: He looked cool except they literally did it last year at SummerSlam as well.

MF: I think it’s the SummerSlam thing now, yeah.

LP: He’s Gangrel Edge at SummerSlam. There were weeks of teasing Edge coming back and then… they just did Gangrel Edge again. I guess he had short hair again. Anyway, Usos vs. Street Profits—another blowoff match, really.

MF: Not even a blowoff match, because the results were conflicting! It was a fucked ending. 

LP: I didn’t like that finish.

MF: Very funny that Double J, Jeff Jarrett, played that match entirely straight.

LP: You’d think that a man who fucks on referees as much as Jeff Jarrett does—a man who knocks over a referee in like every match he wrestles in—you’d think there’d be some kind of spot where that happens to him, but naw. That being said, I’m going to give Jeff Jarrett my Sports Entertainer of the Week designation. Truly a man living his best life. Good for him! Kudos to him. Recently hired into a position of power at WWE, featured at SummerSlam, and in the main event of the Ric Flair retirement match. Looked even better in the Ric Flair match than Andrade or Jay Lethal!

MF: Yeah, well, Andrade had to worry about his fucking father-in-law dying in the ring the whole time. He was very unconvincingly making facial expressions indicating “Ric’s okay, Ric’s fine.”

LP: Spoiler alert: Ric did not look fine. We’ll get to that! As I was saying before, I wish The Usos vs. Street Profits was better, cuz I love both of those teams. You put them together, or you give them the right match, and they’re on the level of an FTR or a Young Bucks. I thought the Liv Morgan and Ronda Rousey match was fucking lousy and bullshit and it made me mad. They completely fucked over Liv.

MF: A lot of the matches at SummerSlam were entertaining enough, but there were a lot of non-endings or bad endings. 

LP: Bad finishes. Liv Morgan and Ronda didn’t even go for five minutes. I’m so sick of Ronda, she just sucks. That could have been a really cool match for Liv, with all this momentum behind her since she just became SMACKDOWN women’s champion, and instead they just made her look weak, and made her look like she isn’t as tough as Ronda and got the belt as a fluke. It sucks! I went into that match excited because I was feeling, like, “Liv is getting the opportunity that Ruby Soho can’t.” Liv gets to prove why she’s a member of the Bullet Club, and instead she just got this shittily booked match that made her look week and dumb and just felt like cynical fed WWE booking with a contempt for their audience. Hopefully that kind of shit is the last we see of Vince. I can’t handle watching shit like that.

MF: More often than not, they don’t protect their wrestlers, and they put over the guest stars or crossover stars. Maybe some people are interested in that, some people like Ronda Rousey. I just think it’s bullshit. Liv is clearly on a hot streak, and clearly has the crowd behind her, and to do some shitty bullshit match like that is just fucking stupid. Have a run in—I don’t know why you would go to such lengths just to protect Ronda Rousey.

LP: It was night and day compared to the RAW Women’s Title match earlier in the night. You’d think they’d have people in place to prevent both women’s title matches being about selling the  left arm. How did that happen? Both matches were built around the exact same thing! What?! Not only was it a disappointing shitty match, but they cribbed the entire match from earlier in the card where it was done better! Insane. Wrapping up SummerSlam…

MF: Brock flipped a ring.

LP: Brock flipped a ring! He flipped the bitch!

MF: That was kind of cool. 

LP: I had rock bottom expectations for that match.

MF: They were fine! It did the trick. It was entertaining enough.

LP: Brock pulling all that shit was the most entertaining part of it! The image of Roman falling off of the ring is great.

MF: Roman falling out of the ring like it’s the Titanic capsizing was worth the entire match. Heyman taking the F5 through the table was pretty good. That gnarly F5 that Austin Theory took to the briefcase… I hope he broke his tailbone.

LP: I know right? They were able to almost protect Theory…

MF: By punking him out! 

LP: Right, and he still has the briefcase, so that’s still in play and he’s still a looming threat. Roman is still the reigning champion. I like Michael Cole constantly mentioning Bruno Sammartino whenever he talks about Roman’s reign.

MF: He’s working on these streaks.

LP: Obviously Roman isn’t going to have like, a decades long streak like Bruno, at least not as Undisputed champion. I don’t think the WWE Championship and Roman can coexist with Cody Rhodes in the title picture. Maybe Roman will be Universal champion for a decade. We’ll see how WWE starts integrating new creative into the shows and what presentation differences they have. It’ll be a super interesting thing to consider moving forward. 

Ric Flair wrestling 2022

RIC FLAIR’S LAST MATCH

LP: In this past weekend of closing the book on things… Perhaps the most carny event of them all was the RIC FLAIR’S LAST MATCH pay-per-view. 

MF: Premium live event.

LP: The RIC FLAIR’S LAST MATCH premium live event. Organized by Conrad Thompson and Jim Crockett Promotions. It’s funny, you start the week with Vince retiring and Ring of Honor, formerly the chief independent wrestling promotion in America, having their first breakthrough, mainstream pay-per-view truly under new management. You start the week post-Vince with that, and you end the week with quite possibly the most carny event that could have possibly been put on, from the true carnies.

MF: Closing the book on one of the most famous professional wrestlers in the world’s career.

LP: Definitely a living legend in wrestling, who is almost bigger than the business. Very few can claim that. Also a sex pest, and by all accounts not a great guy.

MF: Pretty awful guy.

LP: He lived the gimmick!

MF: Dave Meltzer had a quote a week or two ago where he was like “If you’re concerned about that stuff, you shouldn’t watch any wrestling pre-2005.” Which is awful, but absolutely true. I wouldn’t hold my breath for like 70% of the dudes who wrestled decades ago to be good guys.

LP: It is a carny entertainment where roided-up… essentially bouncers…beat the shit out of each other.

MF: Jacked up bouncers, former football players, people who have already had several concussions coming in. Yeah.

LP: Toughs. Heavies. Brutes. I don’t think they’re predispositioned to be very good guys. God, is this the third retirement of Ric Flair? The third and perhaps final retirement of Ric Flair.

MF: He needs money again.

LP: He probably needs money again. He’s had a rough year, getting canceled and losing his WWE meal ticket. And his cancellation meant he also wouldn’t get hired in AEW to be a valet for his son-in-law, either. The world’s sexiest luchador. So, essentially, they got the Boys back together.

MF: The rest of that show was decent. That three-way match for the Impact women’s title was… horrendous.

LP: Such a shitshow!

MF: I think there was a shoot injury early on in the match..

LP: Jordynne Grace shoot injured Rachel Ellering. That was something too, where when that match started I was like, “Huh, okay… Knockouts division. Good women’s division. Should be a fun title match. The Knockouts division is better than AEW’s women’s division! Impact’s not that great, but at least they have a solid women’s division.” Then you watch that match and it’s like… maybe the grass is not always greener!

MF: The Four Corners match with Takeshita, Gresham, Alan Angels, and Nick Wayne was good.

LP: The opening contest with the Motor City Machine Guns vs. The Wolves was great, but I gotta rep Detroit. The Four Corners match was good, but it went by way too quick. Why was it only five minutes long? It was shorter than the Killer Kross/Davey Boy Smith Jr. match! When it ended I was like, “Why is the match over??”

MF: It didn’t really feel like five minutes, to me!

LP: All four of those guys were like getting their shit in as quickly as they could in five minutes, it was blink and you miss it.

MF: I loved that they just ran back the AAA double-title match with the luchas.

LP: They just took out Vikingo, yeah. That was incredible. I’m sure that was most people’s Match of the Night. There was the perfectly fine Briscoes match. The Killer Kross/Davey Boy Smith… I just couldn’t.

MF: I felt bad for Davey Boy Smith Jr.!

LP: Me too! Killer Kross just sucks.

MF: He sucks!

LP: He’s somehow a worse and more overrated wrestler than Adam Cole.

MF: His gimmick is “The third guy from SWINGERS.”

LP: Literally. I don’t know how his gimmick has been reduced to “COOL GUY from VEGAS with a SMOKESHOW WIFE.”

MF: He does a tight five, and he also trains to be a boxer!

LP: Like get in line! That makes you the fourth coolest guy on your bar scene. Cool!

MF: His gimmick is Johnny Drama!

LP: When he was NXT champion, he was SUPERNATURAL. And now he’s just Some Guy with a Hot Wife.

MF: PUA.

LP: Right, he’s got a Pick Up Artist gimmick. That’s what happens when you Control Your Narrative. I wish I could’ve seen the Bunkhouse Battle Royale. Good week for Mance Warner!

MF: He parlayed a GCW callout prior to the Ric match into a main event match on Rampage against Mox—pretty cool! 

LP: Otherwise, the entire Ric Flair show was just Frankensteining a card to prop up a main event that was almost certainly going to be a shitshow. And it was.

MF: If I was any of the guys in that match, I’d be embarrassed. It was like watching a Make-A-Wish child get to wrestle.

LP: That’s what I thought it would be going in, and then it was, and it was sad.

MF: It was hard to watch! Ric Flair was barely able to raise his arm to do a slap, and they were selling these slaps like he’s the strongest man in the ring. Play it like a joke! They shouldn’t played it up, but instead beforehand they had that weird promo where Ric got beat up and bloodied in a parking lot, so they were hyping it like it was a grudge match. I need to go back and watch, but there was a moment after the match where Andrade was helping Ric out of the ring, and Ric grabbed the rope and looked like he was about to die, and Andrade had all this worry behind his eyes but was going “He’s good, he’s fine.”

LP: When they had him start blading and shit, and then he sold the pacemaker in front of Bret Hart and Mick Foley and The Undertaker at ringside, that was like “N-n-n-no! Don’t do that!!” But that doesn’t really compare to… I knew there would be a moment in the match where it would legitimately look like Ric Flair died in the ring, and then it happened right after Lethal gave him that German suplex. It seemed like he literally died. He was LAYING in the corner, basically dead. No one was checking on him, I was like, “He’s done! He’s dead” He looked like Mr. Bean for most of the match.

MF: He was probably so fucking doped up he didn’t know where he was!

LP: He looked ROUGH. And then he took that suplex and was just, like, fucking dead. The suplex killed him for shoot. Then Andrade did the tag to him…just lying there… and tried to get him upright and have him put on brass knuckles and Ric could like barely hold up the brass knuckles. It was like Weekend at Bernie’s spots.

MF: The other insult of it was… all of the actual wrestling he did… we all already saw him do it on Instagram training with Jay Lethal when they were hyping this shit up. It wasn’t impressive anymore! We saw him doing the three spots he did!

LP: Right. It was like, “Oh cool, you did those exact same spots from the Instagram video again, and you’re wearing a purple shirt. It’s just like “Dead Dove: Do Not Eat”… I don’t know what I was expecting!

MF: It was morbid, and we all had a morbid curiosity about it.

LP: We got worked by the Dirtiest Player in the Game! Honestly, one of my favorite moments in the night and during the match was the backstage segment with JJ and his dad and Jerry Lawler. They were all talking about how Ric Flair stole the shuffle dance from Jackie Fargo. JJ was doing the Fargo Shuffle to retain the honor of Memphis wrestling tradition. That was funny as shit. But I digress, Ric Flair is not dead, he is surely alive. It’s very funny that they seemingly had a spot set up for Charlotte, but Megan was out there instead. Charlotte was probably like “There’s no fucking way I’m going to be in this match.”

MF: There’s no way.

LP: I’ve always rated Charlotte over Ric. Ric, as a worker, had some incredible matches and was a great in the ring, and was a great promo. There’s a reason he was as over as he was.

MF: I feel that by the time we were seeing him in WCW he was already past his prime. He’s a relic of professional wrestling. 

LP: Right, he represents the Boys in the Back and is the literal personification of all negative aspects of professional wrestling. Consider that we had the metaphoric death of Vince McMahon, perhaps the ultimate carny huckster besides Donald Trump, and unquestionably the key figure in pro wrestling over the last 40 years. Now we’re putting to bed Ric Flair for shoot and in kayfabe. The future is completely unwritten. From here, you can take professional wrestling anywhere you want it to go! Where do we go from here? I don’t see how this doesn’t benefit both AEW and WWE, if they let the competition bring out the best in both of them.

MF: If the free market works…

LP: If the free market works, and in an industry as Libertarian as Pro Wrestling you’d hope that it would. I hope both companies step up their game now, and hopefully we’ll get some really awesome wrestling out of it.

MF: It’s a great time to get into professional wrestling!

Bandcamp Picks of the Week 8/5/2022

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