A bit of a story here: I was in the middle of writing the rough draft for my Valis post a couple weeks ago, when I got pinged on Discord. A friend had messaged me, asking if I wanted a Steam code for this game. Not one to turn down a free video game, I said yes. I didn’t press the issue as to how exactly he got this game. I hope it was from a bundle, because nobody should be gifting me $60 video games for the hell of it. Well, unless you’re one of my Niteflirt customers, in which case, you fucking paypigs need to get me a Super Cassette Vision and a bunch of its games, specifically Pop and Chips.
Now then, the game itself.
WWE 2k20 was an absolute joke. Even if you don’t care about wrestling, video games, or wrestling video games, you knew what a piece of shit it was. It looked like shit, and it played like shit. 2k20 was mostly infamous for its bugs. The game was very obviously released unfinished. This was mostly due to the series developer Yukes leaving mid-way through production, with the resulting development in the hands of an inexperienced team that had no idea how their engine worked. I guess after nearly twenty years of making the same game over and over, not enjoying it, all while having to deal with a revolving door of unstable publishers and WWE itself breathing down you neck, you finally have enough. And like everyone else who’s sick of Vince McMahon’s shit, Yukes now works for AEW. To say that the game suffered because of this would be an understatement. Ultimately, the only thing 2k20 was good for were the NewLegacy streams that followed.
As a result, it would be announced that WWE would not have a game released in 2020. The time would be spent coming to grips with how the game worked, and make something that didn’t suck.
But then there was a game released in 2020, and that was 2k Battlegrounds.
2k Battlegrounds was meant as an “apology” for how bad 2k20 was. Instead of a boring Sports Entertainment sim, we were getting this over-the-top action-fighting game. Something along the lines of the Stone Cold (heh) classic, Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game, or, fuck, WWE All-Stars. Brief aside: I have never played All-Stars. I head it was really good, but I couldn’t get over the art style, which is one of the few times a games’ art has ever actually offended me. I’m just saying, maybe it’s a bad idea to give your roster exaggerated muscle definition, looking like a bunch of steroid monsters, especially given that about half the characters are actually dead in real life due to substance abuse issues; I don’t want to be reminded how grossly big Eddie Guerrero was prior to his actual death, thank you.
Anyways. 2k Games wanted to apologize for giving us an ugly, badly playing, buggy wrestling game released at full price with a bunch of microtransactions by…giving us an ugly, badly playing, buggy wrestling game released at full price with a bunch of microtransaction.
I hate to focus so much on the graphics of a game, but I have to here. Battlegrounds is fucking hideous. It attempts to use a chibi-fied, super deformed look, and fails miserably. It’s not cute, and everyone looks like they got something wrong with them. You will never get used to how this looks, and I hope that this does not become a trend. Some things were never meant to be, and I think a chibi Bray Wyatt or Hulk Hogan are among them.
this is supposed to be a terrifying murder demon
You pick your ugly little Superstarstm and then you have a match. I played this on the medium difficulty, and either I would finish a match in about thirty seconds because my opponent no resistance whatsoever, or the AI would counter every single move I attempted and draw the match out to a time limit draw. Because of everyone’s stubby little limbs, your attacks have no range to them, and any move that does any real damage takes stamina, stamina that is constantly draining. Every match quickly degenerates to doing big moves, hoping the AI doesn’t have a response to all of them, then either throwing shitty punches that don’t connect, or even better, standing back and doing nothing until you’re recovered. In real wrestling, when the wrestlers are tired, they at least put someone in a headlock first. At least recover in a way that isn’t completely boring! For something that’s supposed to be fast-paced and “arcade-like” (whatever the fuck that means), having guys run out of breath completely kills the pacing.
steam went down literally as soon as i installed this
There’s a story mode. It also sucks. You don’t get to play as any of the wrestlers you see on TV. You instead play as a bunch of OCs that can best be described as: “douchebag,” “another douchebag,” “another douchebag that is probably a racist caricature,” and “I stopped playing this mode because I don’t care anymore.” The cutscenes are presented via comic panels where a badly drawn Steve Austin is looking for new talent for WWE, I guess because the current talent is all going to AEW and Impact. Because, you know, that fits the character of Steve “took wrestling to new heights of popularity by beating the shit out of his boss on TV” Austin.
pretty sure this is racist
You’ll probably have to play this anyway, because it’s how you get enough “Battle Bucks” to unlock hidden characters. In Battlegrounds, “hidden” means “about 90% of the game’s roster.” Oh did you want to play as multiple time world champion Daniel Bryan? Better pay up! You want Becky Lynch? You know, the same Becky Lynch who main evented Wrestlemania a few years ago? Earn those Battle Bucks, bitch! Rob Gronkowski, an NFL player, is available by default, yet just about everyone who made WWE programming tolerable for all these years are hidden from view. How fitting.
I went looking through the roster, to see who was considered the most valuable. The most expensive wrestlers in Battlegrounds are:
So you can save up all that money and buy a racist, a guy who killed the company for about half a decade due to his ego (you can even argue that WWE has still never recovered from his run at the top), a TERF, and a literal supervillain. The fact that McMahon is worth more than most of the talent he hires really is the best unintentional statement, isn’t it?
That’s really all there is to 2k Battlegrounds. It sucks, but it sucks in a boring, ugly way. At least with the mainline games, you can at least laugh at how buggy they are. Battlegrounds is just…there. It doesn’t succeed, but it also doesn’t fail in any spectacular way. I played it for about a week, then I put it away, realizing that I had seen all there was to offer. Games like this are built around having lots of replay value, and this doesn’t. Really, all I can say is that 2k Battlegrounds is the video game equivalent of modern day WWE: throwing bad ideas at a wall to see what will stick; what will bring back a deflated audience and a low public opinion. At risk of sounding like a fangirl, I would say to stick it out and wait for the AEW game. I can at least say that when AEW fucks up, I still have fun.
Last night was All Elite Wrestling’s latest Pay Per View. I ended up ordering the show, as I’m a fan of Tony Khan’s product, and I wanted him to have a little walkin’ around money (I also hit the jackpot in regards to Niteflirt customers actually spending money instead of finishing up in less than five minutes like a bunch of scrubs, so I could afford it). I watched the show with a bunch of my friends, many of whom aren’t wrestling fans, or at least aren’t fans on the weird, obsessive level that I am. I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last Tuesday, but I can absolutely tell you about the time Al Snow and D’Lo Brown had a hardcore match in the late 90s where D’Lo hit Al with the receiver of a pay phone, then told him afterwards, “next time, use 1-800-COLLECT!” making a reference to a very homoerotic commercial he had done with Steve Austin earlier in the year.
As I’ve casually mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been a fan of Sports Entertainment more or less my whole life; one of my earliest childhood memories is me sitting on my mom’s lap while we watched “Mean” Gene Okerlund do a rundown on the wild world of the WWF during an episode of Superstars. Despite all the really sinister and dark shit that has happened in this industry, I still love it, and find it to be somewhat magical well into my mid-30s. To write about the appeal of wrestling is a post all its own, and I’m already going off-topic, so let’s literally get this show on the road. This is also my first time reviewing a wrestling show, so please bear with me here. I won’t be doing move-for-move stuff, since I would rather focus on characters and the story being told, instead of “he hit him with an arm drag.”
The Buy-In: Riho and Thunder Rosa vs Dr. Britt Baker and Rebel (Not Reba)
We start with the free pre-show match. As much as I love AEW, and watch it literally every week, fuck this weird “only one women’s match on our televised program” bull shit. Hikaru Shida and Ryo Mizunami are already on the main show, so this gets bumped to the preliminaries. Riho is whatever. Rosa is really good at doing a wrestle, though man, she really needs to wear pants that maybe don’t fit as much; I’m not some fucking creep who only watches women’s wrestling because I want to jerk off to the competitors, so I don’t go looking for their stuff to fall out of their gear, but you can’t not see Thunder Rosa being All Cheeked Up during her matches. It is so distracting. I linked to the match up above, you can see for yourself.
A little over a year ago, I wrote about not giving a fuck about Britt Baker. She didn’t have much of a personality. She had this energy of “when the fuck is NXT going to sign me?” The start of her heel turn involved her cutting one of the worst promos I’ve heard in years. Since then, though, I’ve come around on her. She’s definitely been doing a great job in her new role of entitled, racist Karen. I don’t think AEW set out to make her character a racist, specifically, it’s just that she’s exclusively been feuding with women of color this whole time (Yuka Sakazaki, Big Swole, Thunder Rosa), and as a fan, you can put two and two together, even if it’s unintentional. Though I haven’t really seen her wrestle, as I am way behind on watching AEW Dark, I think Rebel is at least a good character too; she added a lot to the Dentist Office Brawl between Baker and Big Swole.
But it doesn’t matter, because Rebel is not wrestling tonight, as she is “hurt.” So there is a last-minute replacement, and it is…
MAKI MOTHERFUCKING ITOH!!
If you do not know who Maki Itoh is, let me tell you that she is a bonafide Superstar, bottom line. A former pop idol turned wrestler, Maki has charisma like a motherfucker. Even if she were in the ring with three slugs, instead of just one, she still could still carry the whole match on her personality alone. Even if it’s only a pre-show, I’m happy that Maki is being given a worldwide platform to perform on.
The match itself was actually really good. I went in expecting Riho to look lost, fuck up half her moves, and do a bunch of really shitty Dragon Suplexes. Instead, she actually had a personality and did some cool moves. Maybe because she was in there with people closer to her size, rather than expecting 280 pound Nyla Rose to take her power moves. This was mostly the Maki Itoh match, whether it was due to booking, or her presence overshadowing all the other women. Whatever, it was fun.
And hey, Maki won, so I’m thrilled.
Match 1- The Young Bucks vs Chris Jericho and Maxwell Jacob Friedman
Before I start, let me point out Jim Ross showing up to do commentary with his voice completely shot. This is good, because it means a bulk of tonight’s broadcast will be handled by the more than capable Excalibur and Tony Schiavone, and will lower the chance of JR saying some stupid boomer shit, like calling Emi Sakura an “Oriental” or something. Twenty years ago, I never thought I would prefer to hear Schiavone over Ross on a wrestling show, but time is funny that way.
Confession: I like the Young Bucks. A lot. In my particular circles, that seems to be a minority opinion. Whatever, they’re cool. MJF is a future star who could go down as one of the best heels of all time. And Chris Jericho is a dumb fuck boomer who is always in the news for saying something stupid or that time he performed at a concert with his shitty band that led to a spike in COVID-19 cases. That kind of sucks, because I loved Jericho as a kid. And despite all of the things he’s doing to kill his off-screen legacy, he’s still legitimately one of the most talented wrestlers of all time, and could contribute so much more to AEW’s success if he weren’t so hell-bent on becoming more trouble than he’s worth. As it is, I’m fine with him being kept as far away from the main event scene as possible, making younger guys look good, and hopefully fuck off back to WWE when his contract is up. At least he has more upside than fucking Jake Hager.
The thing about AEW is that it prides itself on having great wrestling, which it absolutely does. Even its worst match can still be described as “okay, I guess.” As such, it’s going to be extremely repetitive of me to keep saying, “this match was good.” Of course it was. But I will say that this match failed to tell the story it set out to tell. This was supposed to be a personal blood feud. Jericho and MJF had bloodied and assaulted the Bucks’ dad the week before. If someone beat the shit out of my dad, I would…well, I would shake their hand and thank them for a job well done. But if I didn’t hate my dad, I’d be pissed. Maybe the one time where I’m not doing cool flips, and instead focusing on kicking a man’s ass. So in the end, it was a fun and exciting match, so I can’t hate it, but it should have been brutal and violent instead.
Special mention to this weird spot where MJF kept pointing at his dick. And yes, telling people to suck your dick is absolutely a Thing in wrestling, but usually when you do it, it’s not fucking hanging out and winking at you. MJF spent what felt like an hour crotch chopping while he was open-carrying some heat. Like Thunder Rosa, maybe he should get some new gear.
Match 2- Tag Team Battle Royale
I love tag team wrestling. I love battle royales. I love when tag teams are in a battle royale. AEW has some great fucking teams, too. You got Private Party, The Lucha Brothers, Jurassic Express, The Dark Order, Proud and Powerful, The Butcher and The Blade, among others.
The thing about these kinds of matches is that they are fun to watch, but you can’t really say much about them. Guys walk around, punch another guy, try to throw him over the top rope, and then something cool happens on occasion until there’s only a few guys left, then the real drama kicks in. And fuck yeah the drama kicked in at the end. Any of the remaining teams could have won, and it would have been believable. I loved that the final two wrestlers were Jungle Boy and Rey Fenix, getting to see the two of them show off their particular skills in a 1-on-1 environment. And as much as I love Jungle Boy, I’m glad Rey Fenix won. That dude is on his way to becoming a Lucha Libre icon, I think.
Fun, but I think this should have been on the pre-show instead of the women’s tag. I personally like when a battle royale serves as a lead-in to a show. You gonna fucking tell me that Peter Avalon is more worthy of a PPV slot than Maki Itoh?
Match 3- Hikaru Shida vs Ryo Mizunami
I have only two complaints about this match. That being said, anything negative I have to say should not take away from the fact that this was the best match of the night, which definitely says something on a show where every match is good. Mostly (we’ll get to that one later). Unlike the opening match, this had a story, and it told it wonderfully. Hikaru Shida is the dominant AEW Women’s Champion. She’s beaten just about everyone. Then Ryo Mizunami, who told a rookie Shida about ten years ago that Shida was not in her league, wins an entire tournament involving the best women’s wrestlers in the world, and gets a shot at Hikaru Shida’s title, and to prove herself right about not being beatable. It’s simple, but it works. It’s Wrestling 101. Two women with something to prove, beating the fuck out of each other.
To explain what makes wrestling so captivating is that there’s more to it than matches that are fun and a good showcase for an athlete’s abilities. I’ll go ahead and let the cat out of the bag here: as fans, we know wrestling is fake. We know that the results for every match are predetermined, and that the wrestlers are choreographing and pantomiming their moves in the ring. We know, and we don’t care. But there are times when wrestlers are so great at what they do that, for at least a moment in time, they can convince us that what they are doing is 100% real. It’s suspension of disbelief, no different from any other form of fiction. By the end of this match, Hikaru Shida and Ryo Mizunami made this shit look legitimate. Keep in mind, I was watching this with a group. We were talking and joking and carrying on all night. This was one of the few moments where everyone was dead silent. This match demanded your attention, and it got it. That’s how you know that you’re doing Pro Wrestling right.
Hikaru Shida ended up winning. I like Shida, I really do. But in her win, I must ask: what was the point of the tournament that Mizunami won? Winning a tournament in any fictional environment, not just wrestling, means that you are set to do something big. Feels anticlimactic to have her lose her first match on a pay per view. That’s complaint number one. I didn’t like that.
Complaint two: after the match, Nyla Rose showed up and beat the fuck out of everyone. This in and of itself is not a complaint because Nyla Rose fucking rules. No, it was because she was joined by Britt Baker and Maki Itoh, before Thunder Rosa came out to even the odds. This led to the announcement of a tag match on Dynamite. This would be cool normally, but the cynic in me sees this as a way to consolidate the AEW women’s feuds into one match, so as to avoid having to worry about needing to book more than one of their matches on TV. Please prove me wrong, Tony Khan.
Match 4- Best Friends (Chuck Taylor and Orange Cassidy) vs Miro and Kip Sabian
This wasn’t a match so much as a storytelling vehicle. I do not like this. This story sucks; one of AEW’s few low points in its creative direction. This entire feud is because one of the Best Friends was accidentally thrown through a cheaply made arcade cabinet Miro gave Sabian during an episode of Dynamite. This also led to a cameo appearance by Billy fucking Mitchell of all people. I don’t want to talk about this. I like Taylor and Cassidy. Miro’s good. Kip Sabian’s alright, despite that fact that his real name is not actually Kip Sabian, meaning that at some point in his life, he thought that it was a good idea to name himself “Kip Sabian.” These are guys who could be doing good things, but this feud ain’t it, chief.
Match 5- Matt Hardy vs “Hangman” Adam Page
Of all the wrestlers in this current era, Adam Page is by far my favorite. He rules, and is the best at everything. He is my favorite, and he should be yours, too.
Adam Page went from being Yet Another White Guy in the Bullet Club to being the absolute best thing about AEW in about a year. Turns out that “Wrestler With Impostor Syndrome, Who Drinks A Lot As A Means To Deal With Self-Doubt” is intensely relatable and endearing. I mean, who doesn’t feel self-conscious? I’ll confess right now that there are times where I do feel like I’m not as good as my very talented friends, despite my own considerable skills, and I imagine they feel the same sometimes. It’s very human to feel overlooked and left out. Watching the internal struggles of the character of The Hangman play out is probably some of the most realistic writing wrestling has ever had.
Plus he has one of the few accounts that makes Twitter worth looking at once in a while.
I love this man.
Oh right, and he’s having a match against Matt Hardy, because Matt tried to steal money from him.
Matt Hardy has always been good at what he does, even when he was fucked out of his mind on drugs. This was maybe the second best match of the night. Whether or not that’s due to my bias, who cares?
What you should care about is that, after Matt relied on liberal outside interference, Hangman ended up winning due to THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP!! The entire Dark Order came out and saved him from hitting the arena floor in what is the most feel-good moment of the year so far.
Wrestling is really cool sometimes. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this at all, but Adam Page is really fucking good.
Posting this shot of Matt Hardy’s shocked expression because it made my friend Miffy laugh really hard.
Match 6- Face of the Revolution Ladder Match (Cody Rhodes vs Max Castor vs Scorpio Sky vs Lance “Tramp Stamp Hoyt” Archer vs Penta El Cero Miedo vs “All Ego” Ethan Page)
This would have been my least favorite match on the card, if the Best Friends/Miro-Sabian didn’t already happen.
But before I get into that, I need to take a moment to talk about this fucking clown Max Castor. His whole deal is that he will do a freestyle on his way to ring, right? Nothing too out of the ordinary; Rap and Wrestling are far more connected than you think. The problem is that his freestyle sucked.
At least when John Cena did a shitty freestyle, he had a message behind it, even if that message was, “hey Brock Lesnar, suck my dick!” Max Castor is just like, a rapper who looks at the Trending tag on Twitter before his matches.
Anyways. Watching this match with non-fans, it made me realize: ladder matches are fucking stupid. Especially ones with more than two wrestlers in them. I like gimmick matches, but maybe ones that require you to climb something should take a break for a while. Credit to this one at least, for having a spot where guys actually climbed the ladder and tried to grab the Sonic Ring at the top.
Otherwise the pacing was all over the place, with Cody being “injured” then not “injured” then “injured” again. Penta had multiple opportunities to grab that fucking thing and win the match, but he had to stop and press the taunt button every single time. The whole match was basically an overwrought jab at Vince McMahon (the brass ring), and a way to give Darby Allin someone to fight on Wednesday. Whatever. At least Scorpio Sky won it.
Then there was the big mystery signing announcement. Swerve, it’s not Kurt Angle. It’s…it’s Christian.
So, even though I made a billion “it’s…Christian” jokes in the span of the few minutes it lasted, I am looking forward to seeing him in the ring. Unlike Angle, his body isn’t completely fucked. He’s not a dickhead like CM Punk. Given the way AEW has used other established talent, it’s not like he’s going to be a ten-year champion that runs roughshod on everyone. I’ll be optimistic on this one. Though maybe he should have done more than silently sign a contract and leave.
Match 7- Sting and Darby Allin vs Team Taz (Brian Cage and Ricky Starks)
This was what’s called a “cinematic” match. Pre-taped, heavily-edited, with lots of post production flourishes that regular wrestling does not have. Basically, a short movie. Wrestling during the COVID pandemic led to more matches like this being made, as promotions don’t have a live audience to play to. The reason this match is cinematic is because Sting is old as fuck and is returning after a several year absence caused by Seth Rollins turning his neck into dust. A guy like that needs the benefit of the smoke and mirrors these kind of matches provide.
Really, you wanted to see this match for Sting. Not that Darby, Cage and Starks were a non-factor in this match, far from it. But you want to know if Sting can at least look like he can still go, even in an much more tightly choreographed environment.
It was fine. Mostly four guys punching each other in an empty warehouse. It was cool when Brian Cage pick up Darby for a suplex, then walked up an entire flight of stairs before slamming him.
I remember talking about this with the group while the match was going on, that maybe there shouldn’t have been commentary for this. It sounded weird and out of place. You want to separate this from a regular match as much as possible. Let the mini-movie tell the story for you.
Wasn’t bad otherwise. Not on the level of The Final Deletion or the Firefly Funhouse Match, but definitely not the fucking doldrums of the Graveyard match between Vampiro and The Kiss Demon. The match at least managed to establish a bunch of things. It showed that Team Taz had to be nearly murdered to be put down. It established Darby Allin as a risk-taking superstar. And it made Sting look cool. Good job, boys.
Main Event- Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match (Kenny Omega vs Jon Moxley)
Oh, this was a heartbreaker. This was a fucking heartbreaker. For this first time in over twenty years, a major American wrestling company was going to feature a match involving barbed wire and explosives. I bought this show solely on the strength of this concept. Plus, Omega and Moxley are two of the best wrestlers in the world, only behind “Hangman” Adam Page.
There’s this misconception that deathmatch is some absolute shitshow; a bunch of untrained idiots hitting each other with things in lieu of having an actual wrestling contest. This claim is usually accompanied by some clip of a preliminary match on some CZW or IWA Mid-South show, where a lot of those matches are in fact, untrained idiots hitting each other with things. Over in Japan, though, deathmatch wrestling is a goddamn art form. FMW, Big Japan Pro, W*ING, promotions like this had these kinds of matches all the time. Wire, explosives, thumbtacks, nails, broken glass, fluorescent light tubes. Grown men would throw themselves and their opponents onto these objects, bleeding and burning for the sake on entertainment. But these matches had a little something called “psychology.” There was a reason that these men were subjecting themselves to these barbaric conditions. I will post a link to what is probably the best deathmatch of all time between Atsushi Onita and Terry Funk. Take some time to watch it after you get done reading this. It’s not “garbage wrestling” when it’s done right.
What breaks my heart is that Omega and Moxley had a great match. It was utterly fantastic. It was brutal, it was bloody, it was violent. It, again, did what the opening tag match failed to do: convince us that these two men hated each other to the point of willingly entering a ring wired with explosives. Risking life and limb for the right to call yourself the best.
Omega ended up winning due to outside interference. But the story continues after the match. There’s still a 30 minute timer with a large explosive set to blow up the ring. Moxley is left, bloody and handcuffed, in the middle of the ring to be blown up on his own. At least until his hated rival Eddie Kingston comes out to try and rescue him. Kingston never actually hated Moxely; he just wanted to be champion, and would do whatever it took to get there, even if that meant having to hurt Jon Moxley. He can’t wake him up in time, so instead, Kingston uses his own body to cover up a prone Jon Moxely, calling back to the end of the Onita-Funk match I linked to earlier. And then…
The ring doesn’t explode.
All this drama; this genuinely emotional moment, killed instantly due to a technical malfunction.
The fucked up part about this whole show is that this absolute fuck up will completely overshadow it. I have spent nearly four thousand words talking about it, and this lack of an explosion is still sitting there at the front of my mind. An absolute botch that is not the fault of any of the wrestlers involved. Other than two matches, this was a great show, but it won’t matter, because Eddie Kingston being murdered by sparklers is the true highlight. It’s a damn shame.
Despite that, this was still a fun night. I don’t get to watch wrestling with friends. I tend to either watch the shows alone, or catch an illicit stream where I’m subjected to a chat full of chan board assholes. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday night. Glad I got to spend it having a good time with people I care about.
Wrestling was on last night. I was sitting down in front of my tv, eagerly anticipating one match: the rematch between Nyla Rose and Riho. You may remember back in October when I got mad as hell at Nyla’s loss, because she didn’t just lose, but she lost via stupidity, which I thought was bullshit. On top of that, hot take: I don’t think Riho is any good. She has a terrible look, like a child pageant contestant walked down the wrong hallway and wound up in a wrestling ring, and her look of constant confusion doesn’t help. She botches all the time, maybe not on the level of Sin Cara at his peak, but she’s definitely not a smooth wrestler. She even fucked up the finish of the women’s four-way match in a spot with Hikaru Shida who is 1) really good and 2) speaks Japanese, just like Riho, so you can’t blame it on the language barrier. Riho has go-away heat with me. I understand that I’m in the minority on that, but that’s how I feel. Her and Britt Baker I cannot stand. All these great women on the AEW roster, and the faces of it are a 98-pounder who looks like a child and sucks in the ring, and the other looks like she would rather be in NXT and murdering promos in ways Ken Patera could only dream of.
Anyways. Rematch. Nyla won.
I literally screamed so loud that my neighbors had to come and check on me. I was in a Discord call, getting ready to record a new episode of Book of Megadrive, and I’m sure I killed my co-hosts hearing. I was so fucking pumped, dude. The match was great, and Nyla carried Riho to her best match in AEW.
This was an historic moment. A transgender woman of color won a title in a major American wrestling company. That’s fucking cool as shit. WWE will never do this. They would rather find a way to bury Baron Corbin alive with both world titles in his hands than let a trans person even get a whiff of the belt’s leather.
I realized not too long ago that I don’t like to talk about trans shit anymore. Talking about the feelings of powerlessness and misery don’t help me so much as they help shitheads “allies” jerk off to my inspiration porn. The only people I want jerking off to me are the dudes who call my phone sex line (or, you know, people I’m dating). Representation matters if you’re a child, but I’m 33 years old, that ship has long since sailed for me. That being said, holy fucking shit dude a trans woman won the title!
It’s a feel-good moment for someone like myself. To rub it in the face of every clown online telling me that Nyla isn’t ready, brother, as though Britt Baker is ready with her meandering promos where she spends more time talking about Tony Schiavone working at Starbucks instead of, you know, the wrestlers she is actively feuding with. It’s good to know that we don’t all have to suffer for our art. Every “successful” trans artist I know is flat broke and is only a star’s misalignment away from trying to kill themselves. I don’t know what Nyla’s contract gives her, or how big her payday was for working that episode of Dynamite, but it was certainly more than a $25 pittance from a guy who wants to look at her feet. I consider professional wrestling to be an art, and I consider art to be emotionally, but not financially, fulfilling. That Nyla gets to have both of those is fucking great. She absolutely deserves it.
Now to keep my fingers crossed that AEW doesn’t then proceed to book Nyla with a Rey Mysterio-level title reign. Nobody wants that.
I was originally planning on doing a happier post, probably something about video games. But uhh, given my last post, the tonal whiplash would probably be too much.
So instead, I’m going to talk about CM Punk.
When I last did a post about Sports Entertainment (when I got worked into a shoot over Nyla Rose losing on the first episode of AEW Dynamite), I mentioned that I was a HUGE Punk fan. Ever since his infamous “pipe bomb” promo which, in a single night, got me back into wrestling after a years-long hiatus. Quite possibly one of the most captivating moments a wrestler has ever had on the microphone.
And I would watch every show, every week. I would watch streams of the pay per views. I would hate most of it. Despite Punk, this was still the tail end of the “Guest Host” era, where a random selection of celebrities would “host” Monday Night Raw, obviously not wrestling fans, and could not give a fuck. Weird booking decisions that made no sense other than to piss off the fans: such as the infamous Daniel Bryan-Shamus match at Wrestlemania 28, or the petty, childish burial of Zack Ryder. A smarter person would have stopped watching. But I kept on, despite constantly complaining. Yeah, the storylines sucked, talent was being held down, Vince McMahon showed open contempt for the audience, and everything positive about the shows was overshadowed by the haunting specter of John Cena vs Randy Orton part 849. BUT! Despite the talent being held down, they were still, you know, talented. I might have hated the finishes, the badly scripted promos, and hearing fucking Nickelback and Green Day every goddamned week to open the shows, but I could least count on the matches being good despite all that.
Keep in mind, this was before New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, or the recent rise of every indie promotion worth their salt had easier access to their shows. Streaming services for wrestling was still in its infancy. Either you bought DVD’s by the truckload, or you sat there and watched whatever crap you saw on TV. And seeing how the closest competition WWE had was TNA (a company that is only just now starting to shed it’s nearly twenty year reputation as an industry punchline), there was a lot of crap.
But back to Punk. He became a symbol for fans. He was a representation of what fans wanted, and what WWE didn’t. Punk didn’t have the gross bodybuilder physique that Vince can’t keep from being Horny On Main over. His tattoos weren’t a series of generic tribal designs that every fucking wrestler of that era (and even now, really) absolutely had to have. He was a scraggly, dirty looking man who didn’t try to make himself “kid-friendly.” He was a wrestler, in a time when leaked WWE memos literally banned wrestlers from calling themselves that (you’re a Superstar, dammit!). His rise to the top was in spite of WWE plan’s, not because of it. CM Punk made it cool to like wrestling again, for better and for worse.
Then he walked out.
We all listened to his obscenity-laden appearance on The Art of Wrestling podcast. We heard how horribly he had been treated: working with an untreated staph infection for months, with WWE’s quack doctor opting to pump him full of z-paks until Punk finally shit his pants in the middle of a match. Getting fired on his wedding day, with his wife’s contribution to WWE’s current women’s division being completely erased from history. Punk very well could have literally died wrestling for WWE, becoming yet another name among the staggering list of casualties that company has claimed. He was treated like shit on and off screen, so he left. He had my support, and the support of a lot of other fans.
The name “CM Punk” became a rallying cry of sorts. If you didn’t like the bullshit WWE was trotting out in front of you, simply chant his name and watch the McMahon family visibly wince. His departure, and the subsequent lawsuits and count-lawsuits he won clearly hurt them more than they let on. While I’m no fan of millionaires, I tend to be a bit more lenient with athletes. You put your body on the line for years for the benefit of soulless billionaires who don’t give a fuck if you live or die? Fuck it dude, get that money. Punk got out with his health, his partner, and the knowledge that he got even more money by suing the shit out of a racist asshole. He could have spent the rest of his life never wrestling again, going to hockey games, writing for Marvel, and getting his ass kicked in the UFC, and I still would have been a fan.
Then this bullshit happened:
There’s always talk of wrestlers destroying their legacy. Obvious names like Chris Benoit and Jimmy Snuka come to mind. Then you have guys like The Undertaker, once the single-most respected man in wrestling, undoing a twenty year career by constantly coming out of retirement solely to work WWE’s Saudi Blood Money shows.
CM Punk destroyed his legacy in under a minute. Do I think he’s a “sell out?” Yes, I do. Let me explain why.
Aside from the obvious “they literally nearly killed you” and “keeping you tied up in lawsuits as recently as last year, with Vince McMahon openly bragging on national television his attempt to bankrupt you,” there’s the politics. Punk claims to be a left-winger. He hates Republicans. He was one of the first people to publicly support Laura Jane Grace’s transition, and routinely shit talks bigoted fans on Twitter. And then here he comes, walking back into WWE. Not even WWE, but a WWE-brand talk show that airs after midnight on a network known for low ratings because nobody can ever fucking find it. WWE, the same entity that spent 114 times more money on Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign than Trump himself did. As I mentioned earlier, they’re currently in a ten year deal to provide propaganda for the Saudi Royal Family. There are entire books and documentaries on the horrific treatment of their talent going all the way back to the 80’s. Why go back? At least when Mauro Ranallo went back, it was understandable. Mauro is a guy who works three different commentary jobs so he can afford to spend most of 2019 in a mental hospital to avoid killing himself. A mentally ill man not wanting to be sued into oblivion by a notoriously petty wrestling promoter is a situation that deserves sympathy for Mauro, and outrage at Vince. CM Punk got paid five million dollars to get his ass handed to him by Mickey Gaul in about a minute, what excuse does he have?
This isn’t 2011 anymore. WWE is no longer the only game in town. And if Punk didn’t want to go to AEW, maybe he could’ve gone to New Japan Pro Wrestling! Maybe he could’ve gone back to Ring of Honor! But instead, he went back to the alt-right assholes that tried to kill him. Fuck him.
Punk destroyed his legacy, and it doesn’t really matter. When WWE fucks up, people don’t chant “CM Punk,” they chant “AEW.” If we really want to cheer for a rich white guy that stands for everything WWE doesn’t, Cody Rhodes is right there. Speaking of, a new episode of Dynamite is tomorrow. And while AEW is far from a perfect example of inclusion, at least they’re not funding fascism or making fucking blackface t-shirts. That’s the kind of place that Punk so clearly wanted to return to. He himself admitted that his attempt to “make change” while under WWE’s Independent Contract didn’t work, so who he is trying to fool here?
I can’t help but take this personally just a little bit. The thing about enjoying pop culture and getting behind a performer when you exist in some sort of societal margin is that little fear in the back of your mind. Does this person see me as a human? Am I going to cheer and buy this guy’s merch, only for him to turn around and have a problem with people like me? Or other people who aren’t white dudes? Until now, Punk never gave me that impression. But with his return, he has told me, without saying a word, that money is more important. For all his constant jabs at the McMahons being out of touch, he can go ahead and put that label on himself. But hey, it’s okay, because he might say that a storyline is bad! On a WWE talk show that nobody watches. How rebellious.
Last night was the first episode of All Elite Wrestling’s television show, Wednesday Night Dynamite. Pretty much everyone in my social circles knew how pumped I was for this show. I was excited because holy shit, there was a reason to care about wrestling again. I quit watching WWE well over a year ago due to a combination of the Trump shit, the Saudi Arabia shit, and the JBL-Mauro Ranallo shit. And I don’t really have the time or the money to keep tabs on New Japan, as much as I would like to. So now here’s this new company, full of good wrestlers I like, going out of their way to appeal to people like me, having a new TV show on TNT, which hasn’t aired wrestling since 2001.
I was pumped for this match in particular:
Riho vs Nyla Rose to crown the first ever AEW Women’s champion. Now the deal with Nyla, if you weren’t already aware, is that Nyla Rose is a Native American transgender woman. While I may not be Native (I am extremely white), I am a trans woman, so you better believe I was ready to cheer my fucking lungs out for her. Plus, the booking gave me every reason to believe she would win: AEW has spent the past year going out of their way to court an LGBT audience, hiring Sonny Kiss, an openly gay Black man, in addition to Nyla. Cody Rhodes constantly saying “wrestling is for everybody,” banning Vince Russo, a homophobic wrestling writer, from their events, in addition to removing fans that chant queer/transphobic shit during their events. Cody and the Young Bucks may as well have broken through my TV glass and grabbed by the collar and yelled “we want you, specifically, Ramona, to watch this television show!”
So I did. And it was a really great show! Then the semi-main event for the Women’s title was gearing up, and I was gearing up. I was ready to fucking run around the house, cheering and yelling and annoying the shit out of everybody with my enthusiasm. I was ready to see Nyla kick some ass.
And then…she lost.
To say my energy was sapped and the air was taking out of me would be an understatement. I was crushed. I was angry. AEW had worked me into a shoot, brother. The main event of Dynamite may as well have been Cody Rhodes emptying a bag of money into a garbage can, and setting it on fire.
This wasn’t some Daniel Bryan “the guy I like lost” bullshit. Nyla not only lost, but was booked like a fucking fool the whole time. Why would you try to use a steel chair in full view of the referee, knowing that this is not a no-disqualification match, and that you will lose if you hit Riho with the chair? The entire match, she keeps pulling out chairs from under the ring, Fire Pro style, while the commentators keep asking “why is she doing this?” Nevermind the fact that Nyla outweighs Riho by almost 100 pounds, and could simply use her size instead of relying on a weapon. Why is Nyla going for a Senton Bomb to the outside of the ring? What I was told last night was not that Nyla Rose couldn’t get the job done against Riho because Riho was the better opponent, it was that Nyla Rose could not get the job done against Riho because she is a fucking moron. But hey, thanks for the ratings, queers! We might consider telling Jim Ross to quit making snide “she’s not being man-handled, she’s being woman-handled” remarks next time!
I turned the show off after that. I didn’t care anymore.
Like, you spend a year appealing to the LGBT wrestling fans. You book Nyla to win a women’s battle royale from the #1 spot. You keep wink-wink-nudge-nudge promoting the women’s match as “history in the making,” which is definitely not meant to be taken as a loaded statement. Riho doesn’t even work for AEW full-time! You all but said “Nyla Rose will be our first women’s champion.” And while they may have banned Vince Russo from their shows, it’s clear they didn’t ban his booking philosophy with that ridiculous swerve. Great representation, to watch someone just like you compete in the big leagues, then look like a total jabroni and literally fall flat on their ass. Great representation to see Nyla get punked out by Kenny Omega, a man who kayfabes his sexuality worse than Dolph Ziggler kayfabes his politics.
I was originally going to have a section here about the people who have told me that Nyla “isn’t ready yet, brother” or how she’s suddenly a bad wrestler who botches all her moves in ways Sin Cara can only imagine. I won’t entertain that shit. It’s all cis white dudes saying that anyway, and it’s just another example of the wrestling double standard where even if Nyla was the drizzling shits in the ring, what would set her apart from the staggering number of shitty white guys who couldn’t work to save their lives winning titles and main eventing shows? What’s the difference between this hypothetical sloppy Nyla and like, Ryback? Like, I’m as big a CM Punk as you’ll ever meet, but I won’t pretend for a second that he didn’t have quite possibly the worst elbow drop in the history of the business, or that his career defining match at Money in the Bank 2011 didn’t have him falling over and fucking up constantly. Well, nevermind, I guess I did entertain that shit.
I’m mad about this. I really am. I understand that it’s asinine to care about a TV show, but like, I want to like AEW. I want to support AEW. I’m not here on my blog complaining because I hate the company and want to see it burn and end up in Vince McMahon’s tape library. But fuck me, man, you can’t spend all this time and money to reach out to a leftist queer audience, then pull the rug out from under everyone like that. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the idea of Nyla Rose losing matches; I don’t think she should have a Goldberg-like undefeated streak or anything like that. Everyone has to lose some time. But this match was the big one. This was your first impression to a massive audience, the chance to set yourself apart from the competition, your chance to put your best foot forward, and you fucking stepped on everyone’s Nikes. Will I be watching the show again next week? I don’t know yet.