It’s a special time of year for many people, for a multitude of reasons. Some people love the food and look forward to filling up their plates with turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, and whatever else they’re craving. Other people eagerly anticipate the holiday shopping that comes along with the holiday, as Black Friday sales are becoming bigger and bigger (online sales on Black Friday alone topped the $7.4 billion mark last year). Others still enjoy the time they get to spend with family and friends, although COVID-19 is going to do a number on that this year. Overall, though, this is the time of year where, as the name suggests, we should be giving thanks for the things that matter most to us.
The same goes for the world of professional wrestling. We all love it. Well, at least we should love it, considering we spend the time we do watching it and talking about it on Alexandra Daddario’s internet. It’s easy to complain about what we don’t like, what’s going wrong, and so on. Very easy. We’re all guilty of it. However, in the spirit of the season, let’s leave the negativity at the door for now. Instead of talking about the “bad” that’s going on, I want to go in the other direction with this column and talk about some of the things I’m currently thankful for in the great sport of wrestling. There is a lot to love out there if you’re willing to be open and look for it.
This is in no particular order, and as always, it’s all subjective. I know good and well that not all of you will ride with me for the things I enjoy, but hey, that’s fine. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell me what you’re thankful for, both in the comments section below, as well as on Twitter (hit me up @HustleTheSavage). Let’s get happy, shall we?
Choices/Competition: As someone who is old enough to remember watching the Monday Night War every Monday night, I love seeing the level of competition that we’re seeing between NXT and AEW on Wednesday nights. NXT is pushing AEW hard, and vice versa, which means both shows are trying to deliver home runs every week for us, the wrestling viewers. Even if I wasn’t “reviewing” the shows for my Week-In-Review columns, I would still happily watch both every week. I record them both and watch them as I have time during the week, but I eagerly anticipate getting to see what each show delivers.
Folks, it doesn’t matter which show you like best. As I’ve said several times, I feel NXT delivers the better in-ring product every week, but that AEW delivers the better all-around “variety” show that covers more bases. All of this arguing and bickering is dumb. Stop that. If you like AEW better, good for you. If you like NXT better, good for you. Spending all of your time putting the other show, and its fan base, down is insane. Watch one. Watch both. Just enjoy what you’re watching, and stop focusing so much on what other people are thinking and saying. As the great philosopher John Felix Anthony Cena Jr. once said… enjoy life for five minutes, man, it’s not gonna kill you.
Shingo Takagi: I was first introduced to Shingo Takagi in 2005, when he first came to America and wrestled for Ring Of Honor. He was 22 years old when he had his first RoH match, but he was able to stand out right away. He wasn’t a huge guy, but with the Dragon Gate roster full of high-flying performers, his power game made him different. His second run in RoH, from October 2006 to July 2007, was when he gained a new fan in me. His final run in RoH, in March 2008, was when he became one of my favorite performers. Again, I just loved how he stood out in comparison to his fellow Dragon Gate wrestlers like CIMA, Naruki Doi, Masato Yoshino, Dragon Kid, and BxB Hulk.
When Shingo made his surprise arrival in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2018, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew he had it in him to “go” with some of New Japan’s finest workers, but I didn’t know if he would really be given a chance to do so. Thankfully, he has been given the green light for success with New Japan. He has been a singles champion (two-time NEVER Openweight Champion), tag champion (one-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, with Bushi), and a six-man champion (one-time NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champion, with Bushi and Evil). His 2019 was incredible, and he was really able to shine as a singles wrestler starting at that year’s Best Of The Super Juniors tournament, having three or four Match Of The Year contenders over the tournament’s three weeks. A mere month later, at the G1 Climax tournament, Shingo’s run would continue. In the tournament’s 19 days, he wrestled in nine singles matches… and eight of them were also on year-end Match Of The Year lists. My personal pick for the best match of 2019 was Shingo’s bout with Will Ospreay on Day 15 of the Best Of The Super Juniors tourney, but damn, I could’ve chosen a bunch of his stuff.
I’m really glad to see him having the success he’s having. He has been introduced to a new set of fans, and it is a lot of fun for me to see on social media when someone new discovers his work and becomes a fan, just as I did 14 years ago. Now, I wait to see if he can get involved in the IWGP World Heavyweight Title picture, where he can REALLY start turning heads.
Drew McIntyre: He has always had the potential to be a major player, but my goodness, his time between WWE stints did wonders for him. Not only were things in his life that were happening outside the ring molding him and changing his perspective on life, but getting to travel and work with different promotions and different styles of opponents helped to mold the performer that he is. He has been on fire since making his return to WWE in 2017, both with his time in NXT and his main roster run that started in April 2018.
If you didn’t read my Survivor Series Running Diary this past weekend, I made mention of how deceptively large a human being McIntyre is. I think that really helps his “aura” a ton. You don’t realize just how big he is until you see him standing face-to-face with someone like Roman Reigns and you see that he’s the bigger man. He’s able to use that size, and the strength that comes with it, to wrestle one type of match with certain opponents, but he’s also plenty fast and athletic enough to have another type of match with a different set of opponents. He’s one of the select few on the WWE roster that is able to do that, and it works for him.
I just love the roll he’s on right now. He’s one of the most consistent performers in the business right now, both in the ring and on the mic. When he’s around, you know quality is to follow.
Eddie Kingston: The word “believable” is thrown around a lot when it comes to wrestling. So-and-so isn’t a “believable” champion. Random Wrestler #24 should be pushed to the main event because he’s more “believable” than Random Wrestler #103. I try my best to avoid using the word because, far more often than not, it doesn’t make sense. You might not find it “believable” if Rey Mysterio beats Bobby Lashley because of their size difference, but let me remind you of two things… one, it’s a scripted wrestling match, and two, size means next to nothing in a real fight, anyway. There’s a reason the names thrown around as the best boxers and mixed martial artists of all-time are generally outside of the heavyweight divisions.
With all that said, I don’t think there’s a more believable promo in wrestling than Eddie Kingston. I’ve been of that line of thinking for years now. I have laughed at an Eddie Kingston promo. I have gotten goosebumps from an Eddie Kingston promo. I have been terrified of an Eddie Kingston promo. I have been terrified for Eddie Kingston because of an Eddie Kingston promo. Sometimes, I’ll get all of that from an Eddie Kingston promo. He does a wonderful job of tapping into his psyche and delivering something that draws you in, making you want to see more. He has been able to, as the saying goes, talk people into the building for years. I’m very happy to see him get the opportunities that he’s been getting with AEW, allowing him to showcase his skills to a new, larger audience.
Roman Reigns: God knows I’ve said more than enough about how much I have loved what Reigns has been doing since he returned to WWE at SummerSlam, so I won’t say too much more here. What I will say, though, is that the last three months have been picture perfect for me. It is often said that the best villains don’t believe they are the villains in the first place. That’s what we’re getting with Reigns here. Is he willing to do dastardly things to get his way? Yes, but he’s willing to sink to any depths because he knows he has people that are depending on him being at the top of the WWE roster. You might see this as a weird comparison to make, but I liken it to people in everyday life who are being forced to do things like sell drugs and turn to a life of crime so that they can help put food on the table and feed themselves, their kids, their parents, etc. That’s a lot more common than the average person might think it is.
This is the role that Reigns was born to play as a wrestler. His promo delivery, his facial expressions, his aggressive in-ring work… it’s all clicking. He’s every bit the star now that Vince McMahon has thought he was over the last few years. He’s a bigger star than that, even. I’m glad we were able to see this new character work from him, instead of having him miscast year after year after year like we saw with John Cena for over a decade-and-a-half.
That We’ve Almost Made It To The End Of 2020: This one goes for life, in general, and not just wrestling. At almost every turn, 2020 has been pure garbage juice. That’s a fair thing to say, right? We’ve been dealing with a year that has been almost unprecedented on numerous levels. With 2020 only having 36 days left in it, as of the day this column is published, it’s time to start looking at 2021. Out of the ring, it’s a chance for a fresh start and for things to, hopefully, find a sense of normalcy, whatever that means, once more. In the ring, it means that we’re just around the corner from New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom event, the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, and so on. We’ve dealt with a lot of ups and downs in wrestling this year, but a brighter future might be coming soon.
Pat McAfee: Through the years, pro wrestling has seen a ton of “outsiders” from other sports and forms of entertainment show up and perform. Some were one-off deals, like when you see a celebrity such as Floyd Mayweather, Snooki, or Lawrence Taylor wrestle at WrestleMania. Sometimes, they stick around a little bit longer, like Ronda Rousey’s dominant year with WWE. Other times, it’s someone that becomes a full-time wrestler for good, like The Miz or Ron Simmons. It’s a part of the business that we’ve all come to accept, understand, and appreciate.
Obviously, we have no way of knowing the future and how long Pat McAfee will be in the wrestling business, but holy shit, he was born for this. Those that saw him do interviews or appearances on shows like the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players countdown through the years knew he was very entertaining and quick-witted. He has the “class clown” vibes about him. His heel work in NXT has been shocking, though. He comes across as such a natural asshole, and it’s easy to hate him. It’s a very old school wrestling vibe, where the heel would pop off at the mouth and be very good at it, so fans would happily buy tickets to shows or tune in on television to watch that heel get his comeuppance. You wanted to see that heel get his ass kicked, and when it eventually happened, you were thrilled. McAfee’s match against Adam Cole at NXT Takeover XXX was just that. He got to talk his shit, but everyone knew it was time for Cole to hand his ass to him on a platter. Cole did kick his ass, but not before McAfee showed that he was more than just another football guy who was coming in for a match.
I have no doubt McAfee is going to get his ass kicked again at Takeover: War Games on December 6th. I also have no doubt that I’m going to be entertained watching it, and be left wanting to see more of McAfee in the future. He’s only 33 years old, so he has plenty of time to work on his craft and stick around the wrestling business for a long time should he choose to do so.
Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D.: I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school when I say that the women’s division in AEW has been… rough. There are a bunch of women on the roster that, putting it kindly, simply aren’t ready for television yet. Others are inconsistent. Some aren’t being used enough, for one reason or another. There’s one woman that always leaves me wanting to see more of her, though, and that’s Britt Baker.
As a face, she looked like she was on the verge of being one of AEW’s top women. Her work as a heel has been where she really shines, though. She has been so much funnier than I ever expected her to be. Her promos and segments have been shining lights in an otherwise… dim… division.
My only concern with her to this point is her health. In the last 16 months, she has suffered a concussion, a torn LCL in her knee, and had a deviated septum, although that last one wasn’t a wrestling injury. That’s a lot in a short time frame. If she can stay healthy, there is just so much potential for her to grow and rise in a division that sorely needs someone that is able to be its “face” and help push things forward.
Attempts Made: As I mentioned before, there are a lot of unprecedented times that we’re all trying to navigate our way through these days. When COVID-19 first started screwing with things like live sports, pro wrestling had every opportunity to sit there, throw its hands in the air, and call it quits. For the most part, wrestling did not do that. These companies continue to try and entertain their fans the best they know how.
In no way, shape, or form am I saying companies like WWE, AEW, or anybody else has handled things in a COVID world perfectly. Absolutely not. We’ve already seen a ton of mistakes made all over the place. It also remains to be seen whether or not letting more and more fans into buildings and arenas will turn around and bite promotions in the ass. However, I am thankful for the fact that there’s even new wrestling for me to watch. I know it’s kind of a selfish thing to be thankful for, with me sitting in the comfort and safety of my home while these wrestlers and company employees gather in large groups to perform, but thankful I remain. Thankful to the big promotions and the small promotions, as long as people are being safe and smart about things.
You: Since we’re getting sappy, I am thankful for all of you. Every single person that clicks a link of mine, lets their eyeballs work over the words I’ve typed, and interacts with me about the thoughts and opinions I’ve given you. I love hearing the stories from some of you that remembered my first “run” on this site. One of my favorites was from a member of the United States Army. This guy used to send me e-mail feedback after a lot of my columns in 2008, 2009, and 2010. He would tell me that he was deployed overseas, and that my columns were some of his favorite ways to pass the time when he wasn’t working. He messaged me after my return to the site and told me that he was glad to see me back, and that he was now married and had two little girls. I love shit like that. You guys will never truly understand just how much I appreciate you. Some of you have been reading my work for damn near 13 years now. Keep rocking with me, and I will keep dropping column after column for you. Let’s close 2020 out strong and make 2021 our bitch.
Weekly Power Rankings
- Io Shirai vs Rhea Ripley: There have been a lot of very, very good women’s matches in the history of NXT. I’ve already seen some people say that last week’s match between Io Shirai and Rhea Ripley was the best of them all. That’s very high praise. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to rank the best women’s matches in NXT history just yet. I’d have to set up a playlist and watch a few of them in order to make that decision, but this match was fantastic. An absolute big fight feel to the entire thing. The post-match stuff sure made it look like it was a farewell to NXT for Ripley. Time will tell, of course, but I guess we should be expecting her to show up on Raw or Smackdown any week now. Now that I’ve said that, expect her to win the NXT Women’s Title in a rematch tonight.
- Drew McIntyre vs Roman Reigns: Hey, speaking of matches that had a big fight feel to them, this match meets that criteria. You could feel the “WrestleMania main event” vibes in the brief build, as well as the match itself. I’m still a little surprised we got a winner at all, as I figured both men would be protected enough to not take a loss, but the ending still made sense. McIntyre losing didn’t hurt him at all, and the finish allows WWE the ability to have a rematch in the future if they feel the need to do so. Works for me.
- Jon Moxley & Renee Paquette: Mazel tov!
- Team Taz: They got stronger with the surprise addition of Will Hobbs. I do think it was a sign that AEW didn’t know what they wanted to do with Hobbs to showcase any type of personality, so they figured a heel turn and putting him in a group where someone like Taz can do the talking for him will be the most beneficial, at least in the short-term, but it works for now. Honestly, I’m just waiting for Team Taz to bring Leyla Hirsch into the mix, if AEW decides they want to sign Hirsch. She’d be a great addition for a Taz-led faction.
- KUSHIDA: I continue to love the direction NXT is going with him. He was one of the more underutilized members of the NXT roster for a long time, but now, he’s picking up big victories, looking strong, and rising through the ranks rapidly. Well, at least he’s supposed to be rising, anyway. I’m thinking he was being pushed as a contender for Finn Balor and the NXT Title, but Balor’s injury has put that on a temporary hold. It means KUSHIDA will be picking up wins and impressive performances to keep him strong for whenever Balor is officially ready to rock and roll again. Both men have history together with their time in New Japan as two of the best and most decorated Junior Heavyweights of the 2010’s, and that can easily be referenced in any build for a match/feud between them. That’s just my guess, anyway. Maybe there aren’t any plans for them to square off for the title now.
- The Street Profits: It wasn’t a true “passing the torch” moment, as New Day clearly aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the Profits picked up a huge victory that they really needed to help build their own legacy. The New Day have reached that point in their careers where a loss doesn’t hurt them in the slightest. There wasn’t much point in a win for them. The Profits getting the win means that WWE is serious about making them a bigger deal moving forward. They’ve worked hard and have earned that type of spot, and I’m excited to see how the Smackdown tag division grows with them leading the way.
- Daniel Bryan: WWE, as a whole, is better off when Daniel Bryan is around and successful. I’m not saying he needs to be the Universal Champion for the rest of eternity. I’m merely pointing out that he’s one of WWE’s biggest stars, and it behooves the company to treat him as such. He seems to be one of the next in line for a shot at Roman Reigns, which only means good things as far as the quality of performances we’re about to witness.
- Serena Deeb vs Thunder Rosa: I know I took a shot at the AEW women’s division earlier, but this was another good performance from both women. Deeb has been a great addition to the division, adding experience and stability when it was badly needed. Even though Rosa isn’t an official member of the AEW roster, her work there has been great. Whatever partnership AEW and the NWA have is working out for both sides. AEW gets a boost in quality for their women’s matches, and the NWA gets people to see how strong their own women’s division is. I don’t know how much longer we’ll see the companies working together, but I’ve enjoyed their work so far.
- Top Flight: Before AEW, I had only seen a handful of matches from these guys, but I was always impressed. I have also seen some people whose wrestling opinions I trust praise them as major up-and-comers. Their first match for AEW was a showcase for them. They didn’t win, but they were able to open a lot of eyes. Being involved in a post-match attack at the hands of Jack Evans and Angelico seems to signal that there’s going to be more to come from Top Flight. Those guys against Evans and Angelico… there’s going to be some jaws dropping from viewers all over the world there. Congratulations to Darius and Daunte Martin for this new opportunity they’ve been given.
- Lana: She’s going to WrestleMania! Wait… that wasn’t the prize for being the sole survivor for Team Raw at Survivor Series? Well, it’s something. She also had her own episode of Chronicle debut on the WWE Network. Say what you will about her… and based on the premise of the Chronicle episode, a lot of you certainly have… but she’s certainly getting a ton of time and attention right now. Will it lead to anything? Chances are, based on history, it will not. As I said, though, it’s something.
This Week’s Playlist: “Now” by LTD… “My World” by Big Pun… “Shots Fired” by Megan Thee Stallion… “Gorgeous” by SAINt JHN… “Roses (Imanbek Remix)” by SAINt JHN… “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Sons Of Serendip… “Forever Be Mine” by Bitty McLean… “One Drop” by Bitty McLean… “Two Occasions” by Kotch… “I’d Rather Be With You” by Bootsy Collins… “Mary Jane” by Rick James… “Outstanding” by The Gap Band… “Same In The End” by Sublime… “What I Got” by Sublime… “Wrong Way” by Sublime… “Santeria” by Sublime… “Caress Me Down” by Sublime… “Seed” by Sublime… “Jailhouse” by Sublime… “The Ballad Of Johnny Butt” by Sublime