First things first, I want to wish every single person reading these words right now a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I know that this year’s holiday season, like the rest of 2020, is different, unique, and perhaps not what any of us were hoping for. Despite all of that, I sincerely hope that you’re having as much enjoyment out of your days as you can possibly have.
Christmas is the time for a lot of things, but one of the first things most people think of is presents. Specifically, the idea of a “wish list” is all over the place. Maybe you have kids (or nieces and nephews) who are giving you their wish lists to tell you what they want for Christmas. Maybe you’re involved in a Secret Santa type of deal with friends, family, or co-workers, and you’re the one giving people a wish list. Either way, those lists are ev-er-y-where.
It isn’t just for physical presents like a new PS5, a bike, or some gift cards to your favorite stores. No, my friends, you can have a wish list for wrestling, too!
Are you wondering how?
No? Well, can you just pretend that you’re wondering and ask me? Thank you.
I’m glad you asked. You see, there are things that I would love to see the world of professional wrestling give me in 2021, so I have a wish list of my own. Just like your lists asking for a PS5 are for you, and not everyone, the same goes for my list. You’ll see some things you don’t want, and that’s fine. What works for me might not work for you. However, you’ve clicked on a link to read my words, so let’s just focus on what I want this time, shall we?
As always, this list is in no particular order. This is all pretty much just coming to me as I go along.
WALTER in NXT: Needless to say, COVID’s role in 2021 plays a very important part in this. If we’re able to start travelling around more in the coming year, I want to see the current NXT United Kingdom Champion get a stint in NXT out this way. He has only competed in three non-house show matches for NXT since signing with WWE, winning all three matches. The man is currently mowing through the NXT UK roster, having been the NXT UK Champion for 629 consecutive days (as of the moment I type this), and has been putting on some fantastic in-ring performances in that time, including an absolute classic against Ilja Dragunov earlier this year.
Continuing his mini-feud with the guys of Undisputed Era would make for some good television and even better matches. WALTER vs Bronson Reed? Damian Priest? Finn Balor? Johnny Gargano? Karrion Kross? KUSHIDA? Timothy Thatcher? Tommaso Ciampa? There are a ton of people he could work with, and work well with, in NXT. He wouldn’t even need to do an extended stint. I’d love to see him stick around for months on end, but that’s just not realistic with someone that is working to build the prestige of the NXT UK brand. Give him a run with the NXT Title, or at least a big-time feud over the NXT Title, and maybe have a feud with someone else, and that’s it. I would be more than satisfied with that.
Some of you might be asking why I want WALTER in NXT, and not on Raw or Smackdown, and the answer to that is easy. Did you see the last time WALTER was involved with the WWE main roster? A four-minute disqualification loss to Seth Rollins on Raw, followed immediately by being on the losing end of an eight-man tag that didn’t even last seven minutes, followed by being pinned and eliminated from the Raw vs Smackdown vs NXT match at Survivor Series 2019 in under three minutes. Even with NXT being presented as legit threats against their main roster opponents for weeks, WALTER looked like a complete bum. I have zero faith in Vince McMahon and the Raw/Smackdown “creative” teams to make him look any better a second time around. At the very least, NXT and its “hands-off” approach from Vinnie Mac would give us some monster moments from WALTER while he was there.
A Universal Title Run For Big E: I think this one is going to be on a lot of your lists, as well. What more needs to be said about this that hasn’t already been said by countless people, myself included? If WWE needed to split The New Day up, it needed to be for a good reason. What better reason do you need than building a new major singles star? Big E has accomplished a lot in his eleven (!!!) years with the company. He had a FCW Tag Team Title reign (with Calvin Raines), as well as a reign as the NXT Champion, defeating Seth Rollins to win the title. On the main roster, he has eight Tag Team Title reigns with his New Day brethren, and one Intercontinental Title reign to go with it. The only thing missing from his WWE career is a run as THEE guy on Raw or Smackdown.
Right now, Smackdown is being dominated by Roman Reigns. In one of my previous columns, I laid out the easy storyline to get Big E a WrestleMania shot against Reigns. The easiest way, of course, is for E to win the Royal Rumble next month. With Reigns and Jey Uso working together, and the inevitability that Jimmy Uso joins them when he makes his official return to the ring, E is outnumbered three-to-one. I know we have the brand split at the moment, but WrestleMania is the time for cross-brand matches and interactions to happen without any true convoluted reasoning. If E is outnumbered three-to-one in his battle, he would need two people to watch his back just like Roman has two people to watch his back. Hmm… where could E find two people to watch his back? It’s a mystery. It really is. Reigns has his “brothers” behind him, so E recruits his New Day “brothers” to join him, giving us our one-on-one match at Mania. It makes too much sense.
Big E is ready for a top spot, WWE. Make it happen.
More T-Shirt Variety: This one is across the board for any wrestling promotion or independent wrestler that has their own merchandise. For far too long, wrestling t-shirts have been bland, boring, and as cookie cutter as they come. Take a black shirt and throw a logo front and center… boom. Main event players had shirts follow that template. Tag teams had shirts follow that template. Everybody had shirts follow that template. Even if the logo on the shirt and/or the writing on the shirt was cool, it still blended in with everything else that was on the market.
I’m a fan of white t-shirts. I’ve spent 75% of my life living in Hawaii, which is a humid, ball soup creating state. The last seven years of my life have been spent living in Arizona, which features summers that are hotter than the surface of the sun. I’ve also spent time living in Florida, which is another of America’s leading ball soup creators. These are hot, hot places. Through the years, I’ve just developed an enjoyment of white-colored shirts, almost out of necessity. There just aren’t a ton of white shirts in wrestling. With WWE, you could probably count on two hands how many white shirts there have been in the last decade or two. The last WWE shirt I purchased was Shinsuke Nakamura’s “Ichiban” shirt that came out in 2016 or 2017.
Do me a solid, people. I want more wrestling shirts. Even if I don’t buy more, I would love to see more colors and varieties. Let me see some red shirts. Yellow, Carolina blue, orange, purple… whatever, as long as we can cut back on the black shirts.
A Stronger AEW Women’s Division: If there’s one thing AEW really needs to work on, it is easily their women’s division. As of this very second, AEW has aired 64 episodes of Dynamite and has had nine pay-per-view or streamed events. In those 73 shows, there have been precisely 73 shows where the men’s singles workers have gotten a focus, and 73 shows where their tag team division has gotten a focus. Those same 73 shows, however, have featured only a handful of instances where the women’s division got the focus.
I’ve said it in previous columns, but a large part of that has to do with the division itself. There have been way too many women wrestling for AEW that, to put it nicely, simply were not ready for prime time. Even when they have a talented worker, like they have with current Women’s Champion, Hikaru Shida, and the company’s first Women’s Champion, Riho, they’re held back because of issues with crowd connection. When you compare the Japanese women in AEW to the recent Japanese women that WWE and NXT have featured, you see a huge difference in personalities. Asuka is a larger-than-life character that commands your attention, so even if she isn’t able to go out and cut a 15-minute promo in spectacular English, there’s still a connection to be made. To a lesser extent, the same can be said about Io Shirai. To an even lesser extent, the same could have been said about Kairi Sane. Shida and (especially) Riho simply don’t have those types of larger-than-life characters. You just watch them wrestle, and… that’s it.
I want more variety. I want more women that can “go” in the ring, but I also want more women that can cut an entertaining promo or that can be the larger-than-life characters I see in WWE and NXT. Britt Baker is a good choice. I will continue going to bat for Leyla Hirsch until she gets a true chance to shine. Serena Deeb has been a very good acquisition thus far. Thunder Rosa has done incredibly well in her appearances for the company. AEW should build from there.
If you’re looking for someone the company could sign that would help their women’s division out tremendously, look no further than Tessa Blanchard. If the locker room is able to look beyond any of the rumored backstage issues she’s had, then they would be bringing in one of the top women in the business. Someone else they should bring in is Sienna/Allysin Kay, who they brought in for a one-off appearance at Full Gear in November. Kylie Rae would’ve been tremendous for the company, but she wanted out almost as quickly as she arrived, then left Impact Wrestling and has decided to retire. There are plenty of ways to help make things better. AEW simply has to choose one and commit to it.
No More Vince McMahon: Pretty simple, no? We don’t need to get into an eight-paragraph discussion about this one. The man is pretty much responsible for every single one of us being here today, and that’s all fine and dandy, but this isn’t the Rock-N-Wrestling Era. This isn’t the Attitude Era. The current main roster product in WWE is awful, almost all the way across the board. NXT call-ups having no direction, tag teams being split up and then having nothing to do on their own, shoddy production work, title changes that didn’t need to happen, title changes that should’ve happened, horrendous commentary, an overreliance on the same people, the refusal to truly listen to the fans… the list goes on and on, but my point is that the list really does go on and on. There are so many problems in WWE right now, and all of them… every last motherfucking one of them… lands in Vince McMahon’s lap. He has the final say in everything that takes place, and it’s not like people are just choosing to overwhelm this 75-year-old man with decision after decision. He WANTS to have the final say in everything. He NEEDS to micromanage everything you see and hear on WWE programming. When you put yourself into situations like that, you deserve the credit when things are successful, but you damn sure deserve the criticism when things are failing.
Kiss the fattest part of my ass with any talk about how WWE is making a ton of money these days. It’s all about how many eyeballs are on the product. When your viewership is falling to record lows, there are major issues. WWE’s YouTube numbers generally do well, but that’s easy to understand. If you’re a fan of, say, Bobby Lashley, why the hell would you sit through three hours of Raw just to hope you see Lashley for a few minutes, when you could just load up YouTube after the show and immediately watch whatever Lashley did? You get to see the match, promo, or segment you wanted to see, and you don’t have to sit through the rest of the nonsense that the show provides. It’s the smartest, quickest, and easiest way to watch WWE. Vince just needs to go away. It will never happen as long as he’s alive, sure, but it needs to happen. Give the “book” to people who know what they’re doing, sit back, and let them do it. That’s all that would be needed for the much-needed spark the company is in search of.
New Japan Pro Wrestling World As A PS4/PS5 App: Seriously, New Japan… you launched your streaming service over six years ago, and you still aren’t available to be watched on PS4 or PS5 consoles? XBox is the same story, I know, but since I’m almost exclusively on Sony consoles, that’s where I want it. I don’t want to watch a bunch of wrestling shows on my phone. My computer monitor, while pretty nice, is no match for my TV when it comes to size and picture quality. To quote the legendary philosopher David Michael Bautista Jr:
“You know what I want. I’ve been asking for it for years. You’re gonna give me what I want, or I’m gonna continue to hurt people you love!”
Well, maybe not the part about hurting people, but the rest of it.
Live Crowds: This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, obviously. I just miss the hell out of watching pro wrestling that is taking place in an arena or stadium jam packed with people. The atmosphere, even on television, is incredible and can’t be topped. These companies are doing everything in their power to use what they have to work with, and I give them all credit, from WWE on down to some of the smaller independent promotions that have been strict about rules and protocols. It just isn’t the same, though. I know it, you know it, and they know it.
Think about all the wrestling matches and moments that have happened in the last nine or so months, and think of how much those matches and moments would’ve been boosted by having a capacity crowd there to cheer, boo, yell, and chant at and with. Roman Reigns’ heel turn. The Fiend being SET ON MOTHERFUCKING FIRE. Sting’s arrival in AEW. I just shake my head at the mere thought of what wrestling could’ve been this year.
Folks, be careful out there. Be safe. Let’s do what we can to make sure we don’t need to have this exact same conversation next December.
Shingo Takagi As A Main Event Player In New Japan: Since he debuted for NJPW at the King Of Pro Wrestling 2018 event, it can be argued that nobody on the roster has had more top tier matches than Shingo Takagi, perhaps over the likes of Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Tomohiro Ishii, Tetsuya Naito, Will Ospreay, or anyone else. I know that Dave Meltzer’s star rating system isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but just to use it as an example of what I’m saying, Shingo’s 2019 had five matches rated at 4.25 stars, two matches rated at 4.5 stars, two matches rated at 4.75 stars, and three matches rated at 5 stars. Using the same rating system, Shingo’s 2020 has seen four of his matches rated at 4 stars, eight matches rated at 4.5 stars, one match rated at 5 stars, and one match rated at 5.25 stars. I don’t care who you are, who you root for, or how you “judge” a wrestling match… 26 matches rated 4 stars or higher in the span of two calendar years is absolutely wild.
It’s not as if he’s been a jobber there or anything. In those two years, he has been a part of the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champions once, part of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions once, and has been the NEVER Openweight Champion twice, including the current reign. At the upcoming Wrestle Kingdom 15 (New Japan’s version of WrestleMania) event, he’ll be defending said NEVER Openweight Title against Jeff Cobb in what should be another war. I just think that Shingo has earned the right to move up the proverbial totem pole. There is no reason he shouldn’t be in contention for the IWGP Heavyweight Title.
One thing that could (purely speculation on my part here) be holding the company back is that they have crowned a “new” name as champion twice in the last two years, and both reigns (Jay White last year and EVIL this year) were generally given poor reviews by fans. Things like that can make a wrestling promotion want to stick with the more tried-and-true names at the top of the card. Shingo is different than both of those “new” names. For one, EVIL kind of came out of nowhere to win the title. Before he won the 2020 New Japan Cup to earn his title shot, he was almost exclusively working as a tag and six-man tag wrestler. Before the Cup, it had been almost a year since he had won a singles match of any kind. Jay White was in a similar spot, working primarily in tags, even after becoming the new leader of Bullet Club and targeting Okada and Tanahashi, who were the top two names in New Japan. White then won a singles match at Wrestle Kingdom 13, and then won another singles match the next month to win the title. That’s it. Shingo is ready, and has proven so time and time again.
Male Wrestlers And Male Wrestling Fans Need To Do Better: 2020 was a wild year, huh? On top of everything else that happened, it sure as hell seemed like we couldn’t get through a week without a wrestler or a wrestling fan being accused of some type of idiocy ranging from rape to hitting on underage girls to getting caught cheating on their significant others to sexual assault to using their “position” to bully people or earn sexual favors… and just about everything in between.
I know, I know… accusations do not necessarily signal guilt. There were plenty of those accusations that turned into admissions of guilt and apologies, though.
We need to do better, guys. I am certainly not a saint. I’ve done a lot of things I regret when it comes to women, but Jesus Christ, nothing that would get me thrown in prison or being blacklisted from an entire profession. It isn’t just crimes that we’re talking about here, either. If you’re on Twitter, look no further than any tweet from a female wrestler or female wrestling fan that is even moderately attractive in any way. You’re going to see the filthiest replies, usually having absolutely nothing to do with the original tweet. Men are STILL sending unsolicited dick pics to women, and it’s damn near 2021. That is a tactic that has never once worked out well in the history of ever, but guys keep trying it. No more of that shit.
Even when you go all the way down the grossness scale to downplaying a woman’s thoughts about wrestling simply because she’s a woman, you see it all the time. “Mansplaining” is still a thing, which boggles my mind, because let’s be real here… men are fucking stupid. All the “Well, actually…” in the world isn’t going to change that. Are there women out there with poor “takes” on wrestling? Yes. Of course there are. That isn’t a gender thing, though. Lord knows there are men out there with poor takes, as well.
I can’t believe I’ve had to dedicate so many words to this section, but here we are. Again, we need to do better.
The Continued Support Of You, ReaderLand: I’ve been doing this column thing for 13 years now, across three different sites. I have been beyond blessed to have so much love and support from you fine folks. Many of you have been reading my work from the beginning. You will never, ever understand how much your support means to me. You’ve helped me get through some very difficult times in my life, when I would “escape” into my work. I’ve read every tweet, message, Facebook post, e-mail, and message board post you’ve sent me through the years, even if I didn’t respond. Hell, I even read every text and listened to every voice mail you left for me back when I was brave enough to include my actual cell phone number on Facebook for feedback purposes.
Don’t think I’m ignoring those of you who are new to my work. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this great sport we all love so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ll continue to handle my thug thizzle in 2021, and I hope you’re all going to stick around for the ride. Let’s have some fun.
What say you? What’s on YOUR wish list for 2021? You know the routine by now. Hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.
Weekly Power Rankings
- MURDER: Like it or not, the biggest story coming out of the last week of wrestling is how the TLC event went off the air. It was… unique. It was “Vince McMahon Presents: Sports Entertainment” to the highest degree. Before the show, there was a rumor that the USA Network was very unhappy with Raw’s declining viewership and was pushing for a “more mature” product from WWE. I don’t know about you, but short of having Andrade and Charlotte Flair shoot a full-on porn scene in the middle of the ring, simulating murder-by-fire is certainly “more mature” than what we’re used to seeing in WWE. I wasn’t a fan of the entire thing, but I’ll tell you what I hated the most about it. Not even 30 minutes after TLC went off the air, Bray Wyatt tweeted. If there was EVER a time when a wrestler should stay off of social media for a while, it’s probably when he was just SET ON MOTHERFUCKING FIRE 20-something minutes ago! That was beyond dumb.
- Roman Reigns: *insert broken record sounds here*
- The Hurt Business: Whether or not they get booked like it, these guys LOOK like a billion dollars. Their entire presentation is great, from the suits to them now having multiple titles on Raw. MVP is the “mouth piece” for the group, Bobby Lashley is the “muscle” for the group, and the team of Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin are the “work horses” of the group. Short of adding a woman to their roster to take over that division, too, they’re covering just about all the bases right now. My only gripe is the same as a lot of you… if MVP is going to wrestle, he should be the United States Champion, and Lashley should be in the WWE Title picture. As it stands, though, things are finally falling into place for them after some rough patches earlier this year.
- Drew McIntyre: You can pretty much say a lot of the same things about Drew McIntyre that you say about Roman Reigns these days. Both of them are on the rolls of their careers, looking like complete megastars every step of the way. He retained the WWE Title in a hard-hitting TLC Match, having to fight off The Miz and John Morrison, as well as AJ Styles, and is now positioned nicely going into WrestleMania season.
- Kyle O’Reilly: KOR’s last attempt at becoming the NXT Champion was met with mixed reviews, mainly because of people viewing him as a “tag guy” or that aren’t a fan of the semi-MMA style that he uses in the ring. I was excited for it, because I’ve seen what he’s capable of as a singles wrestler before he was ever signed to any sort of WWE contract. His match at NXT Takeover 31 did not disappoint me at all, but now, I’m curious as to what NXT has planned. On one hand, having O’Reilly lose to Finn Balor again means they elevated a guy, seemingly out of nowhere, to have him lose back-to-back title matches. On the other hand, if you just wanted to take the title from Balor, why not do it two months ago when he was injured and couldn’t defend it? They’ve basically had to eliminate the title scene for the last ten weeks while they waited for Finn to be able to return to the ring. I know it isn’t ideal to strip a champion, ESPECIALLY after Balor won the title in the first place because Karrion Kross had to be stripped of the title due to his own injury, but it still seems like it would be better than saying “WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE???” and then running the other direction for months while everyone turned to look at what you were pointing at. What do I know? At least the next Balor vs O’Reilly match should be a ton of fun, just like the first one was.
- Sasha Banks: Sasha is really finding her groove right now. She just seems to be finding more and more confidence every week. For someone who has always come across as extra confident, that’s really saying something. Once she got over that “no successful title defenses on the main roster” hurdle, everything else just fell into place. As a champion headed into the Royal Rumble, she now has an even bigger target on her back, but it will be interesting to watch her continued growth as an overall package.
- Asuka & Charlotte Flair: WWE went in the expected direction once Lana was announced as being out of the Women’s Tag Team Title match at TLC. As I said in my running diary for the show, it’s a good thing because Charlotte adds an immediate boost of star power and match quality that Lana simply can’t offer, but it’s also a bad thing because… why in the red hell did we have to sit through Lana being put through a table every week since Vince McMahon purchased WCW? Whether or not it was punishment for what her husband said in AEW, it was punishment to all of us for having to sit through it for no apparent reason. Oh well. At least Charlotte was right back in a title picture again, eh?
- Quarantine Babies: Nikki Bella gave birth. Brie Bella gave birth. Becky Lynch gave birth. Renee Young/Paquette is pregnant. Brandi Rhodes is pregnant. Sarah Logan is pregnant. Lots of baby news to cover in pro wrestling this year.
- The Acclaimed: Their act certainly isn’t for everyone, and their mixed reactions on social media will prove that, but they’re already in line for a shot at the AEW Tag Team Titles after only one televised match since joining the company. Yes, they have scored seven consecutive wins on AEW Dark after losing their first match on Dark two months ago, but it’s still a very quick rise. Now, if they’re actually able to win those Tag Team Titles… me thinks they’ll be a little higher on this list next week.
- Otis: Fun fact… Shinsuke Nakamura is one of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s all-time greatest performers. Otis can now say he has defeated Nakamura in a three-minute match on an episode of Smackdown in 2020. Now, excuse me as I go throw myself down a flight of stairs.
This Week’s Playlist: “Quicksand” by Morray… “Low Key” by Morray… “Lazaretto” by Jack White… “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” by The Temptations… “Let It Snow” by Boyz 2 Men & Brian McKnight… “Silent Night” by Boyz 2 Men… “I Want To Be Your Man” by Roger… “Float On” by The Floaters… “What You Won’t Do For Love” by Bobby Caldwell… “Turn Your Love Around” by George Benson… “Groove Thang” by Zhane… “Hey Mr. DJ” by Zhane… “Through The Fire” by Chaka Khan… “I Feel For You” by Chaka Khan… “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan… “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” by The Spinners… “People Everyday” by Arrested Development… “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers… “Get On Up” by Jodeci… “Love On Top” by Beyonce… “Back In The Day (Remix)” by Ahmad… “And The Beat Goes On” by The Whispers… “Rock Steady” by The Whispers… “Love Light In Flight” by Stevie Wonder… “Outstanding” by The Gap Band