As some of the 90-day no-compete clauses come to an end for many of the released WWE wrestlers from this past spring, while some old faces are returning to their old stomping grounds, grapplers like Tommy End/Malakai Black, Chelsea Green, Andrade and Steve Macklin are beginning to pop up in new homes.
This is the beginning of a very good period for fans and wrestling promotions.
Above all for the wrestlers, with Joe and Vega returning to the WWE, it’s the correction of an abusively insane decision to release them for disparate reasons in the first place, between Joe seemingly being undervalued altogether or Vega and the company’s conflict over her Twitch channel’s operation; both are now where they should have always been. It’s an instance at least in the case of Samoa Joe of complete course correction, although it’s not clear yet if his role also involves him wrestling once again (seems so after this week’s NXT). As for Vega, she returned to the company officially two weeks ago and will be competing in the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match and at least for now it seems she’ll be figuring into the title picture in some capacity; especially with Bayley having gone down to injury for the remainder of the year and likely into early spring depending on its severity. Their current roles are great opportunities for them to step forward.
For others however, regardless of whether their no-competes have expired (regardless of length) or were cut short and/or waived, on the backs of the company releasing (see: firing) so many people, we’re finally at a moment where WWE’s roster is at a manageable capacity which conversely also will allow all these new performance center recruits such as Parker Boudreaux, Bronson Rechsteiner, Trey Baxter and Cora Jade among others to shine and actually grow on NXT while roster spots on Raw or Smackdown open up for the more seasoned pros at the top of NXT’s card structure. A running narrative over the last several years with WWE has been its bloated roster, and in conjunction with that, its aversion toward allowing wrestlers out of their contracts when they so clearly are unhappy not working. Such a move served the company, not the business as a whole and we’ve passed that reality by at least for now.
Focus is key, and in paring down its own roster to refocus itself it’s also allowed other very talented people held in queue to move on elsewhere and bloom whether their goal is to either make a space for themselves in new homes or work back to WWE over time. This has let AEW pick up key talented people like Andrade, Miro and Black, people who could be gamebreakers under the right circumstances, while bringing roster sizes in parity with what their needs actually are.
In other cases, we’ve recently seen fresh faces pop up in Impact like Steve Macklin (formerly Steve Cutler in WWE), or at Ring of Honor’s “Best in the World” show Chelsea Green made her presence known as the company is in the midst of a tournament to crown a new women’s world champion. We’ve also seen Mickie James pop up in a non-wrestling capacity in the NWA to executive produce an all-women’s PPV in August for the company. In these cases, like those above, it’s a matter of opportunity and having access to those chances to showcase wrestler’s abilities unfiltered or at least in a better light. That only stands to improve the wrestlers’ stock inside the ring and throughout the business, which better serves themselves, the companies they work for and certainly fans watching their preferred shows.
Of course there are detractors, naturally, or those who might openly critique something like Vega’s decision to return following both her stance against the company’s social media policy and concurrently the lack of growth of her Twitch channel following her release. When it comes down to it however, they’re grown adults and they’re charged with making the best decisions for themselves and their households. However you might want to interpret it is up for debate.
While these cases have resulted in Joe and Vega returning, with cases like the now-AEW-signed Malakai Black/Tommy End, and the clearly-not returning Murphy if his interviews with Sean Ross Sapp and Chris Van Vliet this week are to be taken at face value, they will or have found fresh pastures elsewhere and as fans we need to respect that as readily we’d embrace the former returns.
In the case of Black, the response to his return at least in the corners I’ve seen has been glowingly positive (although I’m sure there are critiques all the same), evident in the number of views his AEW debut has amassed in the last 5 days; it currently sits at 1.4 million views. To put that in context to WWE, comparably the NXT Top 10 only received 320K views, while Raw’s Top 10 has 1.7 million in roughly the same time (5 or 6 days). That’s a big number for such a moment, and if you’ve been a fan of Black’s through his whole career or even just his 5-year stint in WWE, it bodes well for him and wherever else he works going forward.
While not every debut or return will have the same impact, over the next several weeks and months the influx of talent from WWE will be dispersed across the wrestling landscape with the result hopefully being talented people being allowed to work and showcase their abilities, while WWE will hopefully be able to right itself and refocus its mission with its mix of young veterans and budding talent in the pipeline. Wrestlers need opportunities and the platform to be showcased on, and I feel that’s coming in the near future. Across the board, the back half of the year should be intriguing and exciting for companies and fans alike.
Money in the Bank Predictions
We’re now less than a week away from WWE’s annual Money in the Bank PPV. And while last year’s road from point A to point B on the men’s side meandered for months on end until the company finally made something out of the Otis-Miz story in the early months of this year, hopefully the 2021 edition and fallout is better executed.
This year’s event features six matches — two MITB ladder matches and four title matches — which should set the stage for SummerSlam next month.
AJ Styles/Omos vs. The Viking Raiders: If there were a throwaway match on the card it would have to be this one unfortunately; it doesn’t feel like it measures up to the other five matches in terms of its stakes. Styles and Omos’ title run has been a great way to introduce the big man to the product and to fans, however with the company’s tag division looking for an identity the Raiders are the kind of team that need to be at the top of division as a callback to the powerhouse teams of old. Where Styles and Omos would go after that is unclear, but with so little time left on Styles’ contract it would be unfortunate to squander the back end of his WWE run in a tag team. The Raiders are the kind of team that should lead this wing of the division, and they’ve more than earned another run. Prediction: Viking Raiders
Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte: You can never pinpoint what the company will do with Charlotte because they have demonstrated a willingness to strap the belt on her at any given moment. Given how their matches last year went, the company is not above sacrificing youth for the sake of branding. In this match though, it’s far more important to continue building Ripley as a champion and a big win over Charlotte would solidify her spot and optically increase her stock following it taking a big hit last year. Charlotte could easily win here, but I feel the company needs to put Rhea over as champion and a win here would also leave open a chance for a big trilogy match. Prediction: Ripley
Bobby Lashley vs. Kofi Kingston: Lashley has been a dominant WWE champion since winning the title ahead of WrestleMania, and I don’t foresee that actually ending here. As feel good of a story as it would be for Kingston to regain his title, Lashley deserves to defend his title on the bigger stage that SummerSlam offers because he foremost deserves it, but also he has succeeded in continuing McIntyre’s dominance of 2020 aside from the momentary cup-of-coffee reigns Miz and Orton had over the last 16 months. The match itself will be fantastic, but Lashley needs to retain to setup a bigger match in August, whether that’s Lesnar returning or something we haven’t considered yet. Regardless, the title shouldn’t change hands here, unless it’s to the MITB winner provided Kofi also goes over. But that would be a very poor, cheap-heat decision. Prediction: Lashley
Roman Reigns vs. Edge: Much like the above, now isn’t the time for Reigns to lose the Universal Title. Edge is a worthy foil both in the ring and outside it, and injects intensity and energy into the feud to fuel Reigns’ character and position. However, Reigns’ reign shouldn’t be sacrificed here to the veteran for a feel good moment. The possibility is always there, much like Kofi should he win, that someone could cash in on either successfully, but for the match I believe to be the most interesting on the card for a multitude of reasons, this is not the bout to utilize any type of cash in on. I believe though we’re in for a straight match with a decisive decision building toward SummerSlam with another big opponent for Reigns to turn away. His reign has been completely about establishing him as the apex force on the roster and now is not the time to end his run on top when the company has waited so long to position him in a role that fans are also behind as he continues to be among the best parts of any of the three WWE programs. Prediction: Roman Reigns
Money In The Bank: The MITB ladder matches are a mixed bag. On the women’s side there’s no clear potential winner and you can make a case on who should win, who WWE will probably have win, who deserves it and which you can write off… I think. The company has scarcely put much stock in Naomi’s work, nor do I think Nikki (Cross) A.S.H. will factor into the ending. I don’t foresee Asuka repeating as MITB champion, and similarly to Nikki I don’t think Natalya really works in the winner’s spot. Based on the company’s own booking, I think we’re realistically looking at either Alexa Bliss, Vega or Liv Morgan. If there are any plans to take the title off Bianca Belair, Vega would be the archetypical character to slide in and relieve her of her title (likely before getting blasted in a rematch). Morgan is the “feel good” winner here as she’s the one most want to see be given a spot she rightly has earned through her work in the ring, the problem however is without a heel turn I don’t know it works provided Bianca holds on to her title. Either Vega or Morgan are serious possibilities, but my gut says we could be in for a Bliss win here based on how often she’s featured prominently and creative’s apparent fixation with the character. It’s not a great choice, but thinking in terms of the company’s booking tendencies it’s best to prepare yourself for that potentiality. Predictions: Want – Liv Morgan; Likely – Alexa Bliss
On the men’s side of things I think we can rule out John Morrison, Ricochet, Riddle and potentially Nakamura right away. Any of them winning would be a surprise and I believe we can likely also lop Kevin Owens into that mix, simply because there’s little value right now in retreading the Reigns-Owens story from earlier this year. It’s more likely than the former four, but compared to the remaining field I’d favour Drew McIntyre, Big E, or Seth Rollins. It’s never easy to predict these, and while Drew could come out of this very easily, you run the risk of stepping into old territory if you want to run Drew-Lashley again when it was the dominant story in the spring, never the mind the “no challenging” stipulation. That brings us to Seth and Big E. Of the two I think Big E has the most to gain from winning the contract, and the pop he’d get for a potential cash-in would justify the choice even if he doesn’t go over. It tests the waters for a sustained main event push at that, which you could build on. Seth is the safe choice and already has an obvious built-in story given their shared history from within the Shield. I’m less inclined to go with Rollins here though as I don’t feel like he has anything to gain, unless the plan is to use him against Roman at SummerSlam. Prediction: Big E