Before I go any further in this column, I have to say the following things…
- I know that the odds of it happening are slim, at best.
- I also know that it can’t and shouldn’t happen until we’re able to get large crowds into venues again. Maybe not full capacity, but more than, say, a few hundred people spread out.
With that said…
I was looking at some YouTube videos the other day, and I saw a suggested video on the side that was about some of the loudest crowd pops in the history of pro wrestling. For shits and giggles, I watched said video. It had everything you would picture it having… Goldberg defeating Hollywood Hogan in the Georgia Dome, Daniel Bryan defeating Randy Orton and Batista at WrestleMania 34, Dolph Ziggler cashing in his Money In The Bank briefcase on Alberto Del Rrrrrio, KofiMania, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin coming to the ring to help Mankind win his first WWF Title, Triple H’s return in 2002 from a torn quad, The Rock returns to be the “host” of WrestleMania 27, Brock Lesnar returns in 2012, Daniel Bryan leaves The Wyatt Family, and Lex Luger defeating Hollywood Hogan to win the WCW Title in 1997, among many others. Always fun to travel down Memory Lane like that every now and then.
In a strange coincidence, I got a Facebook message an hour or so after I watched that YouTube video. It was from one of my Facebook friends that has been a loyal reader of my work for years. The coincidence is that he messaged me and asked about crowd pops. Specifically, he asked me about crazy crowd pops that we have potentially missed out on this year with wrestling promotions doing shows in front of little-to-no fans. His message ended with him asking me if I think COVID-19 is going to change the way companies like WWE and AEW handle things moving forward whenever we’re able to get more live fans in attendance again.
That got me to thinking.
If I were Vince McMahon, Tony Khan, or someone in charge of one of the bigger promotions on the planet, how would I handle things once live crowds are allowed on a large level once again? Would I handle business as usual, or would I have some fun? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d want to have some fun. Not only would I want to reward my paying fans and viewers for sticking around through some strange times, but I’d also want to reward the hard-working men and women on my roster by trying to boost business to the best of my ability.
That got me to thinking some more.
What is out there to really boost business? What is available, without getting too deep into the fantasy booking areas? You can’t just say “Vince McMahon should buy New Japan and have some dream matches” because that isn’t going to happen, no matter how exciting that idea would be to some people.
The first thing I started thinking about is World Titles changing hands. I started thinking about some of the most popular people on the WWE, NXT, and AEW rosters. Of those people, it would make sense to assume a first World Title victory would garner a larger reaction than, say, someone’s fifth World Title win. When you look at the WWE roster, the only person that is over enough for a pop like that as they won their first World Title would be Big E. If Big E won the Universal Title at, say, WrestleMania, I have no doubt that it would get a very big pop if it happened in front of a stadium full of people. I’m not quite sure it could top the reaction to Kofi Kingston winning the WWE Title at WrestleMania 35, but that isn’t E’s fault in the slightest. That just says more about the emotion that was poured into Kofi’s climb to the top, and the history that came along with it. If you go through the NXT roster, there’s nobody that really meets the criteria we’re looking for here in this paragraph, so you’d have to move to the AEW roster. AEW runs in smaller venues than WWE does, but their crowds make up for that difference by being insanely passionate for the product from top to bottom. There are a few names in AEW that could get a really good reaction if they were to win the AEW Title at some point in front of large crowds. Orange Cassidy is the first name that comes to mind, of course. Cody would be another good choice… if he didn’t already lose a match where the stipulation stated he would never challenge for the AEW Title again if he lost. Darby Allin is someone who could fit the criteria, but I think it would need to be down the road a bit. The other two names I think could get crazy pops are names that you might not immediately think about, but the right storyline build and mention of their careers could do the trick… Dustin Rhodes and Christopher Daniels. Rhodes would be the easier pick of the two, though. Dustin has always been over with crowds, and he is a master of drawing emotion out of fans. I just don’t think he’ll be in line to win the title.
That got me to thinking even more.
If it isn’t going to be someone winning their company’s top title for the first time, could it be a current roster member making a big return? It can’t just be any old person returning from an injury or a sabbatical. To get a big time pop, that person would have to be someone special. In WWE, someone like The Undertaker always gets a huge reaction when he returns, especially when it’s more of a surprise, but he has come back so many times now that it kind of “dulls” the pop a bit. John Cena could count here, as he would also guarantee a major reaction from a live crowd, but there are two things working against him here. One, like The Undertaker, Cena has made a bunch of returns in the last few years. Two, there’s still a sizable portion of the WWE Universe that really dislikes Cena. Sure, his reaction would be off-the-charts loud, but a noticeable mixture of cheers and boos isn’t what we’re going for here. What about Ronda Rousey? Charlotte Flair? They’d be able to get a big reaction, but I don’t think they’d draw an all-time great one. Goldberg? Edge? Again… big pops, for sure, but Goldberg has come and gone a couple times already in recent years, and Edge won’t be able to top last year’s Royal Rumble reaction. There is one person on the WWE roster that I think would bring in a huge pop for their return, especially if it happened in the right situation, and that’s Becky Lynch. At the time this column goes live, “The Man” will have been off of WWE programming for seven months, and with a baby on the way possibly any day now, you have to think it will be AT LEAST a few more months until a return makes sense. One of the hottest acts in all of wrestling, gone for what will be at least a year (my assumption) and could end up being closer to a year-and-a-half (also my assumption)? Bring her back, unannounced, for something like interrupting a promo from dominant Raw Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler or something like coming to the rescue of Asuka from a beatdown at the hands of Baszler and Nia Jax… boom. All-time great pop that makes YouTube compilations in the future? Perhaps, but still not a sure thing. I don’t even think you can consider anyone in NXT or AEW for this particular type of scenario.
That got me to thinking more still.
What about someone “jumping ship” to the competition? AEW isn’t as big a company as WCW was in the 90’s and the very early 2000’s, but what if one of their big stars left the company and showed up in NXT, or even on the main roster in WWE? What if one of WWE or NXT’s big names showed up in AEW? Obviously, you have to look at things like contract details, release dates, “No Compete” clauses, and so forth. It’s not like a WWE wrestler can just leave and show up on Dynamite whenever they want to, you know? Fightful has a great “Resources” section on their website, and one of the resources they have is a list of all the known contract expiration dates for wrestlers in WWE, AEW, New Japan, Impact, Ring Of Honor, and Major League Wrestling. If you scroll through the known dates, who could jump from WWE to AEW and make a splash? Zelina Vega has made a lot of news recently, and she can start appearing for other promotions after February 11th. She’s not going to shake the wrestling world up, though, and that’s coming from a fan of hers. Ronda Rousey’s contract expires on April 10th, so she could be at AEW’s Double Or Nothing pay-per-view in May. I highly doubt she wrestles for anybody other than WWE, but that would make some noise, literally and figuratively. An interesting name would be Daniel Bryan, whose contract expires in September. If Bryan Danielson showed up at an AEW event, it would blow the roof off of whatever building they were in. There’s no doubt in my mind about that whatsoever. I just think he’s in the same category as Rousey. At this point in his career, I can’t see him working for anyone else. He’s already hinting at the end of his in-ring career coming up sooner than later. God, can you imagine the scene at, say, Full Gear in November 2021? Picture someone like Kenny Omega standing tall in the middle of the ring after winning/retaining the AEW World Title, when the lights suddenly go out in the arena, and “The Final Countdown” by Europe is heard through the speakers. Not only would that poor arena crumble, but social media would explode, as well. Again, I just don’t see it happening, but it’s fun to think about. Short of surprise releases, there just isn’t anyone from AEW that could come to WWE in 2021 or 2022 and really move the needle, so there goes that part of things.
That got me to thinking more.
If it isn’t someone winning the World Title for the first time… if it isn’t some contracted roster member making their return from injury or some other hiatus… if it isn’t someone “jumping ship” from one promotion to another… to me, that leaves one option remaining. Someone that isn’t currently under contract has to show up somewhere. That someone has to be a major player in the business, even though they’ve been away for a while. It has to be someone who has always been able to garner some of the biggest crowd reactions on a nightly basis when they were last active.
Folks… it’s going to take CM Punk.
I don’t care what you think about his in-ring work, nor do I care what you think of him as a person or as a UFC fighter. You’re lying to yourself if you don’t think an arena full of fans would go absolutely banana pancake if “Cult Of Personality” hit out of nowhere. The best part? It wouldn’t even have to happen in WWE. Use my aforementioned example with Kenny Omega in AEW, but replace Bryan Danielson with CM Punk. You’d still have 15,000 some odd people losing their minds.
I’ve been telling people this for a long time. It doesn’t matter that Punk is now 42 years old, or that his last wrestling match was nearly seven years ago. If Punk makes his return to the world of wrestling, that pop will be an all-timer. I can guarantee you that much. Bring him back as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble. Have him return on the Raw after WrestleMania. Have him shock the world as the next challenger for the AEW World Title. There’s a bunch of different ways a Punk return could happen, but if it takes place in front of an actual live crowd, you’re going to get some magic.
Go back to what I said in the very beginning. The odds of us ever seeing Punk wrestle again are slim at the very best, and those odds get slimmer with each passing month. Lord knows there has been numerous instances where he could’ve returned. Just for fun, though, take a look at this list:
- “Hangman” Adam Page
- Kenny Omega
- Lance Archer
- Matt Jackson
- Nick Jackson
- Orange Cassidy
- Penta El Zero Miedo
- Rey Fenix
- Scorpio Sky
- AJ Styles
- Bobby Lashley
- Braun Strowman
- Bray Wyatt
- Cedric Alexander
- Drew McIntyre
- Keith Lee
- Mustafa Ali
- Xavier Woods
- Aleister Black
- Big E
- Kevin Owens
- Montez Ford
- Robert Roode
- Sami Zayn
- Shinsuke Nakamura
- Adam Cole
- Bobby Fish
- Finn Balor
- Johnny Gargano
- Kyle O’Reilly
- Pete Dunne
- Roderick Strong
- Santos Escobar
- Timothy Thatcher
- Tommaso Ciampa
Lengthy list, no? Those are just SOME of the names that CM Punk has either never faced in a singles match, or has never faced in a singles match above a small independent level. That’s not counting the names like Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho, etc. that he has faced before, but would make for some very entertaining matches now. The possibilities are endless for things WWE or AEW could do with Punk if they were able to convince him to return to a wrestling ring.
Again, I know that some of you don’t want to see Punk return anywhere for any reason, either because you don’t like his in-ring work or because you think he’s a douchebag out of the ring. I know the stories of how… well, let’s be nice and say how difficult he can be. I’ve heard them all. I don’t really care about any of that. I’m wanting him to return to wrestling. I’m not asking him to be my best friend. Personally, I really enjoy his in-ring work. I do worry about any sort of ring rust that has accumulated in the last seven years, but it’s not like he’d just sign somewhere on a whim and then get back into a main event match the next day. He’d have plenty of time to get back into the type of ring shape that he and the promotion he signs with can appreciate. Besides, it’s not like he’d have to come back to be a weekly regular again. Sign on the dotted line, do a match or a handful of matches, collect your money, and bounce. Simple as that.
It’s the one sure thing to garner a legendary crowd pop in the current wrestling landscape.
Now, if we can just get these COVID cases down so that we can start having nice things again.
Weekly Power Rankings
- Kyle O’Reilly vs Pete Dunne: In any other instance, if you put these two against each other in a Ladder Match, it’s something that would be a deserving Takeover main event. As it is, the match was every bit as brutal and violent as you would expect with those two involved. It will probably end up on my list of 2020’s top NXT TV matches. Another thing came from the match, though…
- Consistency: There have been approximately 8,392 War Games matches through the years. There have been approximately 8,392 War Games matches through the years where the heels received the early two-on-one advantage. Just incredible consistency that is just about unmatched in pro wrestling. It might be time to shake things up a bit. This week’s episode of NXT sees Shotzi Blackheart take on Raquel Gonzalez in a Ladder Match to determine who gets the advantage in the women’s War Games match. Maybe… just maybe… Shotzi should win that one. Just an idea.
- KUSHIDA: I said it before, but I really do think KUSHIDA is being built up as a challenger for Finn Balor’s NXT Title, but with Balor’s injury still keeping him out, the KUSHIDA push is just moving along with no end in sight yet. Once Balor can return to the ring, I fully expect the two former stars of New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight division to end up on a collision course with one another.
- Kevin Owens As Roman Reigns’ Next Challenger: Far more often than not this year, Kevin Owens has kind of been floating around with nothing solid going on. That changes for the time being as he is the apparent next-in-line for a shot at the Universal Title. Not only will Owens assure that the match will be great, but the promos that will come before the match are going to be gold, as well. My only gripe is that the outcome seems pretty easy to figure out, especially with the rumors stating that Reigns will be defending the Universal Title against Daniel Bryan at the Royal Rumble. I guess we’ll just have to enjoy this ride, even though it’ll be a short one.
- AJ Styles As Drew McIntyre’s Next Challenger: There’s a little more intrigue in this one. A little. For one, it’s always nice to see McIntyre square off with smaller opponents where he can show off his power game. He has spent a large portion of the year in matches with the likes of Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Keith Lee, Big Show, Bobby Lashley, and Roman Reigns. A match with Styles will allow for a different game plan, and we already know the match is going to kick all sorts of asses. Do I think Styles takes the WWE Title from McIntyre? No. No, I do not. The added intrigue is that plans originally had Braun Strowman here in AJ’s spot, but an injury forced a change of plans. We have no idea how long Strowman will be out. If he’s coming back soon, then you have to think the plan for him to face McIntyre is back on, potentially for the Royal Rumble. If Braun is going to miss a chunk of time, though, that certainly increases AJ’s chances. We’ve already seen that WWE has no issue with having McIntyre drop the title, only to win it back randomly shortly thereafter. It could happen again here. It probably won’t, but it could.
- Top Flight vs Jack Evans & Angelico: Another week where Top Flight got a good opportunity to shine and showcase their skills, albeit in a loss. I am really liking what I’ve seen from them so far in AEW. Their futures are bright. Evans and Angelico, on the other hand, haven’t exactly had the most consistent of AEW tenures, but things finally appear to be picking up for them. This is the duo’s third victory in a row, and you can throw in a Jack Evans singles win as well to boost “their” streak to four. It is their longest win streak since arriving in AEW. A post-match beatdown on Top Flight was broken up by The Young Bucks, seemingly indicating that TH2 could be getting a shot at the AEW Tag Team Titles soon.
- Abadon As Hikaru Shida’s Next Challenger: Well, if nothing else, this will be an exercise in watching polar opposite characters go up against each other. I’m not exactly expecting a Dave Meltzer seven-star classic here, but I enjoy the character work that Abadon puts in, and it will be entertaining to see how Shida handles that.
- Jeff Hardy’s Luck: Consider it a minor miracle that Jeff didn’t split his head wide open on the ring steps after landing a Swanton Bomb through a table in his match against Elias on Raw. The spot had disaster written all over it, but Jeff apparently escaped without any injuries. While we’re at it… between Hardy, Elias, the Referee, any production team members watching, Vince McMahon, etc… NOBODY seemed to notice that the ring steps were right fucking there and perhaps should’ve been moved from the close quarters so that Jeff didn’t bust his head to the white meat on live television? Ridiculous.
- Powerhouse Hobbs: I still don’t know if I like or dislike the name change, but I’ve already stated that I like his grouping with Team Taz, and giving him a nice squash match victory is a good start to his heel run. AEW really might have something special with him.
- Miro Haters: Look, I’m sure that Miro is a happy man. He gets paid to play video games on Twitch. AEW is also pretty much paying him to play video games. He’s also still married to Lana. The guy is a winner. However, his AEW run is still iffy, at best, and it is giving the “he was never any good to begin with” crowd lots of ammunition to use in their arguments, whether they’re right or not.
This Week’s Playlist: “BOOKER T” by Bad Bunny… “MEMPHIS TO LA” by Juicy J, Jay Rock & Project Pat… “SICKO MODE” by Travis Scott & Drake… “Red Room” by Offset… “Superman” by Goldfinger… “Ballin” by Mustard & Roddy Ricch… “I Would Find A Way” by Big Mountain… “A Reason To Live” by Horse The Band… “Nogimbus” by Horse The Band… “March Of The Pigs” by Horse The Band… “Bloodmeat” by Protest The Hero… “Left, Right, Left” by Drama… “Make It Hot” by Nicole, Missy Elliott & Mocha… “Freaks” by Play-N-Skillz, Krayzie Bone & Adina Howard… “Girls All Around The World” by Lloyd & Lil Wayne… “Money, Power & Respect” by The LOX, DMX & Lil Kim… “Wild Out” by The LOX… “Groundhog Day” by Drag-On… “Wait and Bleed” by Slipknot… “Spit It Out” by Slipknot… “Prosthetics” by Slipknot… “People = Shit” by Slipknot… “Left Behind” by Slipknot… “Duality” by Slipknot… “Before I Forget” by Slipknot