Before I get going with this week’s column, I want to take this time to thank everyone who reached out to me after I revealed my health status last week. The comments, tweets, and messages were all read, and they’re appreciated more than you will ever know. I have a bit of a long road ahead of me, but I’ll get there. Again, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Now, let’s get down to business.
It’s Christmas time in Hollis, Queens. Mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens, rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese. Santa put gifts under Christmas trees. Decorate the house with lights at night. Snow’s on the ground. Snow white so bright. In the fireplace is the yule log. Beneath the mistletoe as we drink eggnog.
The holiday season is upon us once again, and everything is in full swing. One of my yearly columns, going back years and years, is to create a Christmas Wish List. It’s my personal letter to Santa, asking him to deliver certain things to me in the coming year as far as pro wrestling is concerned. Super simple concept, no? This is all for fun, and not to be taken all that seriously. It’s not for me to shout from the mountaintops that so-and-so is being wasted, and blah blah blah. Without any further ado, here’s my list, in no particular order.
No More Vince McMahon: He has been gone for six months now, and while the WWE product isn’t perfect, it continues to be infinitely more entertaining and watchable than it was when he was the man making all the decisions. You have wrestlers having more creative freedom, both in their matches and during their promos, and it shows. I don’t need to cover too much about my opinions here, as I feel I was more than clear in last week’s column. With all of the rumors and talk that Vince wants to return to the company, I just need to reiterate the fact that I think that would be terrible for WWE. Terrible for backstage morale, terrible for the creative direction of the company, and more importantly than anything else, terrible for my sanity.
Bryan Danielson vs Kazuchika Okada at Forbidden Door 2 (A Two-Fer Wish!): Yes, first and foremost, I would love to see another Forbidden Door pay-per-view. While it hasn’t been guaranteed, Tony Khan is on record saying that he is “almost certain” we’ll be getting a Forbidden Door 2 event, which is a great start. There is some debate on where the event could be held, though. The President of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Takami Ohbari, has said that he wants a second Forbidden Door event to be held in Japan. However, Tony Khan has said that a second event would be held somewhere in North America because the time zones and revenue “wouldn’t make sense” if the show was in Japan.
If we’re going to get a second edition, I will continue to hold out hope that my ultimate “dream match” of Bryan Danielson vs Kazuchika Okada will finally take place. I have been waiting, sometimes not-so-patiently, for this match to take place for over a decade now. It has reached epic proportions now, perhaps to the point that there’s no way the match could possibly meet my expectations and the standards I have for it in my head. Honestly? I don’t even care at this point. Danielson is going to turn 42 in 2023, and he has a pretty scary history of injuries. Okada just turned 35, but he has a ton of mileage on his body due to the grueling schedule and the brutal matches he has wrestled over the last decade-plus. There’s going to come a point when we can’t have a match between these two anymore. Let’s not reach that point. Put Danielson and Okada in the ring, give them 20+ minutes to work with, and watch absolute magic unfold. It’s that simple.
A 17th World Title Reign For John Cena: Full disclosure… there’s a lot working against this one. The thing that stands out the most is the man’s schedule in Hollywood. It seems like he’s busy filming something all the time. If he were to come back and win his 17th World Title, I wouldn’t want it to be one of those token “appreciation” things where he wins it to break WWE’s established tie with Ric Flair, only for him to drop the belt a week or two later. I would want him to return as a “full-time” wrestler, at least for a few months. That would give him enough time to return, establish a feud with the champion, win the title, continue the story with the former champion, and perhaps even start a new story with the next challenger before finally dropping the title and sending him off again, perhaps for good this time.
Also, the timing has to be just right. Right now, Roman Reigns is the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, or whatever they’re calling him as he holds two World Titles at the same time. His reign has become so lengthy and so epic for this era that he absolutely, positively should not drop the title to anyone that is already “established” as a bona fide main event talent in WWE. Obviously, that includes John Cena. That means a lot boils down to the future of the main event scene. The long-time rumor is that WWE would find a way to have a different World Title on Raw and Smackdown again once Roman finally loses. That would be Cena’s opening. For example, let’s say Cody Rhodes wins the Royal Rumble and defeats Roman at WrestleMania. Raw and Smackdown figure something out so that Cody remains champion on one show and the other show gets a brand new (or the old) title of their own. Either put Cena in the mix for the other show’s title, via tournament entry or something along those lines, or have him show up as one of the first challengers to that show’s new champion.
Another thing working against this is Triple H himself. Actually, these days, it might not be working against this so much. The point is that the relationship between Triple H and Ric Flair goes back a long way, with Triple H’s love and respect for Flair going back long before they ever met in person. With Cena and Flair tied at 16 WWE-established World Title reigns, could you picture Triple H giving the green light to Cena breaking that tie? Now, with word that Trips and Flair had a falling out due to Flair’s trademark issues with the company over Becky Lynch’s “The Man” nickname, does that open the door here? If they aren’t speaking anymore, would Triple H be that “petty” and erase Flair’s place in history by knocking him down to second place? That remains to be seen.
Bryan Danielson Winning The AEW World Title: I’ve made mention of this multiple times in my columns, but the way Bryan Danielson has been booked in AEW has been very strange. We’re coming up on 16 months since he made his debut with the company. In that span, when it comes to non-tag matches, he has been on the losing end of seven matches and an additional two matches where they went to a draw. Of those nine overall matches, five of them have been for a World Title, either of the AEW or RoH variety. He has 27 singles victories in that span. That means he wins and wins, positions himself for a title shot, loses the title match, wins and wins, positions himself for a title shot, loses the title match, and so on and so forth.
To me, that’s a weird way to book perhaps the biggest star in the company. I’m not saying he should’ve won the AEW World Title in his first match and been the champion ever since. It goes back to what I said about Danielson earlier. The man isn’t getting any younger, and his injury history means he has a shorter shelf life remaining than the average 41-year-old wrestler might have. AEW needs to strike while the iron is still hot, or this could end up being one of their bigger “what if” scenarios when people look back at the history of the promotion. It appears as though Danielson is going to be MJF’s next challenger, so I might be getting what I want soon. Or… Danielson’s weird booking continues.
New Japan World Available On PS4/PS5: Yes, I ask for this every single year. No, I still haven’t received it yet. Yes, I am going to continue asking for it every single year until I get it.
I spend entirely too much time sitting at my computer desk on a weekly basis. Preparing for my columns takes a long time, especially when statistics are involved, and then comes the actual crafting of said columns. Preferably, I wouldn’t have to sit at my desk for hours and hours more so that I can watch New Japan, as much as I enjoy their product. The TV in my living room is infinitely larger than my computer monitor, and my living room recliner is more comfortable than my computer chair. I’m getting old, so comfort is a huge thing in my life now. You’ll get there one day, folks.
I’m aware that there are ways to finagle things to make it work for me, but all I’m asking for is the New Japan World app to be available for download on my PS5. Get off my lawn!
The Return Of A Healthy Randy Orton: It has been just over seven months since we’ve seen Orton wrestle. He has been sidelined with a serious back injury, and his in-ring future is a mystery, depending on where you’re reading your rumors on a weekly basis.
Even after all these years, Orton remains one of the most popular performers in the business, capable of a main event spot against anyone. He has accomplished pretty much everything there is to accomplish in WWE, and is going to be a Hall Of Fame member as soon as the company sees fit to put him in. With that said, I’d like to see him be able to sail off into the sunset on his own terms, and not because a back injury forced him to. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be about retirement. If he is able to return to the ring, he can wrestle for as long as he is allowed to. That’s his deal. I’m just saying that if retirement is something he has been thinking about, it would be nice to see him pick and choose when that takes place. Also, if he is on the verge of retiring, the WWE Universe should be given the chance to send him off properly.
AEW To Get 12 More Hours Of Weekly Television or AEW To Stop Signing People (Whichever Is Easier): AEW is still a lot of fun to watch, but holy shit, there are so many extra talented performers on their roster that just can’t make appearances on television because there’s simply no time available for them. Even worse, most of those performers were, at one point or another, viewed as major game-changing signings for the company. Someone like Miro, who was putting in the best work of his career, returned from injury nearly seven months ago, had three matches, then disappeared again for over two months, had one more match, and hasn’t wrestled in nearly three months since. Tony Khan should be ashamed of himself for that.
Unless it is someone universally viewed as a person who could really change the game for AEW, and there aren’t exactly a ton of them out there barring some major shocking releases by WWE or other major promotions, AEW REALLY needs to focus on working with who they already have. Hopefully, this is something that will change once TK finally decides to make Ring Of Honor its own company, which should allow for a lot of names to be specific to one side or the other. I’ll believe it when I see it, though.
First-Time World Champions: This is something I’ve asked for in the past, but it’s one of my favorite things in wrestling, so I really enjoy seeing it happen. Creating new stars is such an important part of the wrestling business, and obviously, one of the best ways to do that is to make someone a World Champion for the first time in their career. This is where I get to have a bit of fun with the topic, as I like to look at some names that could potentially be in contention for their first World Title in the coming year. Last time I did this, I started with AEW, so let’s start with WWE this time around.
A lot of people would immediately look at Cody Rhodes here, but he doesn’t count, as he won the RoH World Title in 2017. That counts. Of course, that won’t stop WWE from announcing that a WWE/Universal Title victory for Cody is the first World Title win of his career, but that’s to be expected.
The next name that probably comes to mind is Sami Zayn. Things get a bit murky here, though. He’s a two-time PWG World Champion (yeah, yeah, El Generico, but humor me here), but does that count? Sami also has a reign as the NXT Champion. Does that count?
Austin Theory? He’s a former EVOLVE Champion, and that title’s history has defenses in a handful of countries on three different continents, so… is that a World Title? If that counts, you can also remove Matt Riddle from this conversation, as he is also a former EVOLVE Champion.
The PWG World Title would also eliminate people like Ricochet, Roderick Strong, and Gunther if we’re counting it as a true World Title.
If you want to look at names who have never been a World Champion on any level, but who have some sort of potential to become one in 2023, you have to look at people like Montez Ford, Solo Sikoa, Logan Paul (I said what I said), and Santos Escobar. Including the NXT Title as a World Title opens the door up to names like Carmelo Hayes, Apollo Crews, Grayson Waller, and JD McDonagh. If Carmelo Hayes doesn’t get called up to Raw or Smackdown, I think it’s all but guaranteed that he ends up winning the NXT Title at some point in 2023. That places him above everyone else listed in this section.
When it comes to the women of WWE, I think there are only two women on the main roster who can be a part of this discussion… Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox. For the sake of keeping this section multiple paragraphs shorter, I’m going to count the NXT Women’s Title as a World Title, which removes someone like Shayna Baszler from contention. I don’t think Kai and Nox are particularly close to contending for their show’s Women’s Title as of right now, but it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to get either of them there. When you add the women of NXT, Cora Jade and Zoey Stark immediately jump out. Like Carmelo Hayes, I think Cora Jade is a sure thing as the top talent in NXT if she doesn’t get called up. I’m not quite as high on Zoey Stark, but it’s pretty clear those in charge of NXT are fans of hers, so she has to be involved in these types of talks.
Switching to AEW, a lot of the “usual” names must be mentioned here. Daniel Garcia (if you don’t count the PWG World Title), Darby Allin, Eddie Kingston, Jungle Boy, Konosuke Takeshita, Miro, Orange Cassidy, Ricky Starks, Sammy Guevara, Swerve Strickland (if you don’t count the EVOLVE Title), and Wardlow. They’re all in various states of contention at any given time, but it sure seems like Starks and Wardlow are the most likely to win, although someone like Takeshita would be a great choice, as well.
The women of AEW, on the other hand, are in an interesting spot. At this spot last year, Jade Cargill was a clear choice for this topic, and then she won the TBS Title five days into the year. Kris Statlander was also a top choice after returning from a serious knee injury, but then she suffered a serious injury to her other knee, and her status for 2023 is unknown at this point. At the very least, she should be out of action for the first few months of the year.
When Athena debuted for AEW in May, she seemed like a good choice to win a title. A little over six months later, she won the RoH Women’s Title. Does that count?
Jamie Hayter surprised a lot of people by building so much momentum that AEW had no choice but to push her to the top, making her the AEW Women’s Champion in November.
When Paige VanZant signed with the company, people began to envision a Ronda Rousey-like push for her, whether they liked the idea or not. There were definitely parallels that could be made. Then, out of nowhere, it was revealed by Gangrel, who was training her for her pro wrestling career, that she basically quit training and contacting him. PVZ would start training for a return to MMA, but she did say that she would return to AEW at some point, so nobody really knows where her career stands there.
Ruby Soho was a big signing when she debuted in September 2021, but her time with the company has been relatively similar to Bryan Danielson, who, somewhat ironically, debuted at the same event Ruby did. Ruby will win matches, earn a title shot, lose the title match, then repeat the process all over again. Would it surprise me to see her win a title in 2023? No, not at all.
Overall, it looks like more of the same could be in the future for the AEW women’s division. The likes of Britt Baker, Hikaru Shida, and Thunder Rosa are probably going to be around the titles as long as they’re around. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you.
The Independent Scene Remains Strong: What’s funny is that, of anything I’ve listed so far, this has the best chance of happening by far. In fact, you might as well chalk it up as a guarantee. I know that most of you already know this, but for the rest of you… there’s more wrestling out there than what is under the umbrellas of WWE and AEW. No matter what type of pro wrestling you prefer, there is something out there for you, not only on the independent scene, but also in other “major” companies in different countries. That’s not even counting Impact Wrestling, who is still doing a lot of entertaining stuff.
It’s never a bad time to explore what’s out there in the world of wrestling. There are streaming services all over the place that will give you any and everything you could possibly want. All you have to do is be willing to take a chance.
Your Continued Support: Another year, another chance for me to be sappy.
I just celebrated my 15th year of writing columns. Different sites, different topics, different states of mind… I’ve experienced it all. Your support has been the constant through all of it, and you will never, ever know how much I appreciate it. Even if this happens to be the first column of mine you’ve ever read, know that your support is welcomed and appreciated.
With everything that I’ve been going through over the last week or so, I’m trying to bury myself deeper into my writing, if only to help with some sort of normalcy. Barring something unforeseen, next week will see the return of my #BlackTwitter Year-End Hussy Awards (if you don’t get it, it will be explained in the column), with the return of my 30 Under 30 list on the first Wednesday of 2023.
Keep rocking with me, folks. Let’s get it for another year, shall we?
Now, as always, I’m turning things over to all of you. You don’t have to give me your full lists, but I’m interested to know about what you’re asking for in 2023 when it comes to the world of pro wrestling. Hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.
No matter what holidays you do or don’t celebrate, I hope the rest of your 2022 is everything you want and need it to be. Don’t take anything for granted. Reach out to people who you’ve lost contact with. Mend fences that need to be mended. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Be good to each other.
Weekly Power Rankings
Gunther vs Ricochet: Holy hell, what a match. A tremendous match, period, but especially so when it comes to the “power vs speed” style. Ricochet has had an incredible year, and has been flying under the radar a bit. He has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Triple H taking Vince McMahon’s place in the creative side of WWE. He’s doing great work, and the WWE Universe is reacting to it. I’m not saying he WILL be a main event guy, but I’m saying that if he was put in that position, I think it could work. Of course, his mic skills would hold him back against the likes of Roman Reigns, but that’s something that can be creatively sidestepped with the right minds working on it. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing buzz for Ricochet as a potential Royal Rumble winner, but most likely, a potential Money In The Bank winner.
Jon Moxley vs Sammy Guevara: Moxley continues to live the real-life GM Mode. Put him in the ring on Dynamite against any random opponent, and you’re going to get something fun. If you put him in the ring on Rampage against any random opponent, you’re going to get something fun there, too. There doesn’t even need to be a story behind it sometimes. Oh, and he’s going to bleed. Like… a lot. The man just isn’t going to get to take his vacation, is he?
Axiom vs Carmelo Hayes: When the Axiom gimmick first debuted on NXT, it was viewed as pretty corny, and rightfully so. As time went by, though, his math gimmick began to work for him because he does moves that make sense, and the risks he takes are calculated. That helps him to stand out. Melo, of course, is Melo. He’s main roster ready, and has been for a long time now. Great way to kick things off on NXT this week.
Action Andretti vs Chris Jericho: It’s not often that things can truly shock you in wrestling these days. This was truly a shock, though, and man, the crowd in Garland, Texas helped take this to another level. It started with the crowd thinking, like all of us at home, that it was going to be a simple squash victory for Jericho to help him rebound from losing the RoH World Title. When Andretti began to get some offense in, the crowd began to get behind him. Then, he got more and more offense, and the crowd really started having fun. By the time the match came to an end, you would’ve thought Andretti was a long-time star in AEW and this was a World Title match. Lots of kudoseseseses to go around here. Kudos to AEW for putting the surprise together, kudos to Jericho for being comfortable enough to go along with it, kudos to the crowd for being great, and kudos to Andretti for stepping up in a huge spot. Can you imagine if he had a poor performance and still ended up winning the match?
Seth Rollins & Kevin Owens vs The Usos: The last time Rollins and Owens teamed up on television was back in April during an eight-man tag on Raw. Their partners that night? The Usos. That has nothing to do with anything. I just found that interesting. I’m not normally a fan of champions losing non-title matches on television and pay-per-view, but this one made sense, and it allows for the match to be revisited down the road at some point if WWE wants to, only with the Tag Team Titles on the line.
Death Triangle vs The Elite: The matches are still really entertaining, but not enough has been done to this point in the series to make each individual match stand out. They’re all blending together a bit. That might be about to change, as there have been additions to the remaining matches in the series. This week’s match will be a No Disqualification Match. Next week’s match, if the series continues, will be Falls Count Anywhere. Then, if we’re all tied up at three, the seventh and final match of the series will be a good old Escalera de la Muerte Match aka a Ladder Match. At All Out 2019, Pentagon and Fenix successfully defended the AAA Tag Team Titles against The Young Bucks in an Escalera de la Muerte Match, and that ended up being one of the best matches of the year, so there are some potentially huge shoes to fill there.
John Cena: He’s back! Again! I’m always glad to see him on WWE programming, and I’m especially glad that he’s going to keep his streak of having at least one match for WWE every year for the last 20 years alive. See you again next year, John!
The New Day vs Josh Briggs & Brooks Jensen: Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods always seem to be having a ton of fun, but that’s especially so during their current run in NXT. The new surroundings and new opponents really seem to have rejuvenated them, and it shows. That seems to be rubbing off on their opponents, too. Pretty Deadly has been doing some fun work with them, and now, Briggs and Jensen probably had the best match of their careers against them. We have no idea how long Kofi and Woods will remain in NXT, but there’s still some teams for them to work with that could be a ton of fun, so I’m excited.
MJF vs Ricky Starks: I think that previous editions of the Winter Is Coming episodes of Dynamite led to expectations being too high for this match. At the first Winter Is Coming, we got the debut of Sting and then a surprising heel turn for Kenny Omega to help him beat Jon Moxley for the AEW World Title. Last year’s episode saw the Match Of The Year classic where “Hangman” Adam Page and Bryan Danielson went to a 60-minute draw. This was definitely a good match, but it seemed more like a test for something between them in the future. After the match, Danielson made his return and went after MJF for what Maxwell did to William Regal, and now, that’s all people will remember here. It will be Ricky Starks’ time one day, though.
The Bloodline: I enjoyed the chaotic nature of their surprise attacks on seemingly half the Raw locker room. It’s so simple, and it made a ton of sense. It was also something different than the usual stuff we get from WWE television.
Mandy Rose: First and foremost, please stop comparing Mandy Rose’s situation to Paige having sexually explicit pictures and videos leaked online, or to people like Chyna and Sunny performing in adult movies. Chyna and Sunny were no longer under WWE employment when they ventured into the world of porn, and Paige never intended for the world to see her in those photos and videos. Mandy, on the other hand, was purposely pushing the boundaries on her FanTime page. Yes, that’s her own thing, and she has every right to show off as much as she wants to. However, WWE had already made it clear to its employees that they were not allowed to use third-party platforms where their names and likenesses can be used in ways that are “detrimental” to the company. WWE is still a family-friendly company with millions and millions and millions of dollars from sponsors on the line. Mandy knew that, and she kept doing what she was doing, so yes, she deserved to be fired, whether you like it or not. Do not cry for her, though. She reportedly made $500,000 from FanTime in a week’s time because of all the new people subscribing to her page, and she looks to become a self-made millionaire before Christmas rolls around. That’s more money than she was making to wrestle. Hell, that’s more money than a lot of wrestlers make to wrestle. Making a ton more money in a much shorter amount of time, and she doesn’t have to put her body through hell bumping on the mat? Yeah, she came out on the winning side of this one.
AJ Styles vs Sami Zayn: Yes, it came after the expected outside interference, but how crazy was it to see Sami win a match with a Blue Thunder Bomb? It feels like he hasn’t won a match with that move since he beat Mad Dog Vachon in the Montreal Forum on that infamous night in 1964. You know the one I’m talking about.
Booker T Interviewing Roxanne Perez: It wasn’t much, but I liked the interview segment with Booker T talking to one of his prized pupils. You could tell how much it meant to both of them, and it’s clear how proud Booker is of everything she has been able to accomplish in her career so far.
Becky Lynch vs Bayley: I could certainly be wrong about this, but Bayley hasn’t looked quite the same since returning from a torn ACL. You see it all the time in sports like football and basketball, where athletes will return from an ACL injury and take a while to return to “normal” because they’re overly cautious about reinjuring themselves. Maybe that’s what Bayley is going through, and she just needs more time to get back to full speed and get over the mental block of dealing with a serious injury. She’s still good, mind you. I just don’t see the same pre-injury Bayley these days.
Bronson Reed: Well… he’s back. On one hand, he’s probably making more money now than he was when he was working for New Japan, so that’s awesome. However, there’s also the teeny tiny thing about nobody ever benefitting from a feud or partnership with The Miz. It’s damn near a death sentence for wrestlers to be involved with The Miz in any way. Reed debuting on Raw to almost zero crowd reaction certainly isn’t going to help. Triple H STILL hasn’t figured out that someone being in NXT doesn’t automatically mean the main roster crowds know who the fuck they are. He keeps shoving these NXT favorites of his out in front of Raw and Smackdown crowds with no introductions or backstories, and it keeps falling flat. Sigh. Enjoy your money, though, Bronson.
This Week’s Playlist: “Kill Bill” by SZA… “Seek & Destroy” by SZA… “Love Language” by SZA… “Used” by SZA & Don Toliver… “Notice Me” by SZA… “Conceited” by SZA… “Shirt” by SZA… “I Hate U” by SZA… “Baby Queen” by Gorillaz… “Activated” by Mount Westmore… “Innerprize Rap” by G Perico… “Carved In Stone” by Oceanhoarse… “FOMF” by Ab-Soul… “My Love Is The Shhh!” by Somethin For The People, Trina & Tamera… “All I Do” by Somethin For The People… “Body Bumpin (Yippie-Yi-Yo)” by Public Announcement… “Foolin Around” by Changing Faces… “Baby I’m Yours” by Shai… “Come With Me” by Shai… “I Don’t Wanna Be Alone” by Shai… “Somethin 4 Da Honeyz” by Montell Jordan… “Falling (Remix)” by Montell Jordan & Flesh-N-Bone… “Get It On Tonite” by Montell Jordan… “Let’s Ride” by Montell Jordan, Master P & Silkk The Shocker… “Free Me” by 42 Dugg… “Unappreciated” by Cash Kidd & Sada Baby… “Tip Toe 4” by Riff Raff & Yelawolf… “Dough” by Key Glock… “The Box” by Roddy Ricch… “Tony Montana” by Future & Drake