'Tis the season to bring good tidings and cheer... and secretly hope that special someone in your life checked off everything on your letter to Santa. But what are professional wrestling fans hoping to unwrap this December 25th other than some sweet swag and a few vintage wrestling figures? Read on to find out...
1. A True Wednesday Night War - While the "Wednesday Night Wars" has finally turned into thekind of back-and-forth battle we all hoped it would be, neither AEW or NXT have shown the kind of growth pro wrestling shows experienced during the vaunted Monday Night Wars. Yes - despite having the two biggest domestic wrestling companies airing two competing, well-received products on the same night, their combined viewership is still lower than any single WWE show on Mondays or Fridays (for now).
So this Christmas, pro wrestling fans have an additional ask on their wishlists: instead of just an AEW vs NXT tug-of-war over the same couple million fans, what if it turned into a real horse race and became the only night of wrestling worth watching every week? What if combined viewership climbed into the 3-4 million range? That's a gift that'd make the NXT-or-Nothing and AEW Diehards both very merry.
2. A Clear and Present WWE Universal Champion - In many ways, SmackDown overtaking RAW as "The A Show" is the culmination of YEARS of devaluing that brand's championship by putting it on part-timers (and, really, non-timers.) Brock being on SmackDown seemed like it might represent something fresh for the Universal Championship… but instead, the WWE creative team found a way to get The BeastBACK on Monday Nights with the Twizzler Title in under a month.
So we're unlikely to see Lesnar again until the Rumble. Even then, he's probably holding on to the strap until at least 'Mania (gotta use him to crown another champion AGAIN, right?). But what if this time the guy who represents the Red Brand actually - and I don't know, this might be crazy - but what if he actually shows up to work every week? What if we see the championship at every Pay Per View? What if he's an actual fighting champion? Make it so, Santa.
3. An AEW or WWE Women's Feud That's Worth a Damn - Women's wrestling means so much more than it ever has before. The fact that women have main-evented the last TWO WWE Pay-Per-Views and Twitter didn't lose its collective s--t over it is progress (even if neither match *really* delivered).
But putting lackluster feuds atop the card isn't enough anymore. Consider the fact that by the time we got to WrestleMania 35's main-event earlier this year, most fans seemed indifferent to the red-hot Becky finally conquering Ronda Rousey. Or that AEW, the bastion of professional wrestling progress, seems to have forgotten about putting real time and energy into a women's champion feud that fans connect with.
And it isn't the talent - fans genuinely love these women and want to see them succeed. But its the fact that Lacey Evans was bizarrely miscast in her Southern Belle gimmick (just let her be GLOW's Liberty Belle for goodness sake), and pushed to the top of her division before the fans were ready… or that WWE seemed to forget about its Women's Tag-Team Champions (both of whom deserve better main-roster singles runs than they've been given) until the last few weeks… that has weighed-down two amazing women's divisions across RAW and SmackDown.
4. Better treatment for wrestlers - If a WWE wrestler wants to leave while under contract, even if they're not being used, you know what they have to do? Complain about it on Twitter until WWE gets tired of being associated with them.
Never mind the fact that WWE's "contracts" are gross misuses of the term and really only serve to behold wrestlers to Vince McMahon's traveling circus with as little worker benefits as possible. Or that wrestlers take home a lower share of the profits than their NFL or NBA brethren. But don't take my word for it - see above as LAST WEEK TONIGHT's John Oliver details why this contract issue is so messed up:
Which leads me to my next point...
5. For ROH to Grow Up - Ring of Honor was THE indie darling of the last 4ish years after Impact Wrestling left a giant Dixie Carter-shaped hole in our hearts (but hey, against all logic it's GOOD AGAIN so maybe check it out). Unfortunately, 2019 spelled nothing but mostly doom-and-gloom for the Sinclair-owned promotion.
First, the year kicked off with news that not only were Cody and The Bucks leaving ROH - they were doing it to start their own promotion, and taking a few other helping hands with 'em. Then, while the ROH/NJPW-promoted WrestleMania Weekend "SuperCard of Honor" MSG sellout was set to be the brand's crowning achievement, controversy surrounded a questionable partnership with baggage-laden Enzo and Cass, and a run-in angle that A) overshadowed the rest of the show, and B) permanently soured a burgeoning NJPW partnership.
THEN, shenanigans with an unruly fan and some kind of mafia-esque Bully Ray shakedown loomed large over ROH's Summer.
And finally, the year ended with ROH management - specifically Chief Operating Officer Joe Koff and GM Greg Gilleland - in hot water for lackluster concussion protocols, complaining about talent, undermining their own women's division, and general douchery.
These are issues I'd expect from small, local promotions still fighting to find their way. Hell, they're issues I'd expect from TNA circa-2011. But Ring of Honor - founded in 2002 and helping sell out MSG in 2019 - should be better than this.
(Spoiler Alert: Koff, Gilleland, and Sinclair all get coal in their stockings this year. The rest of us get a nice, shiny excuse to revisit Impact Wrestling.)
6. CM Punk Back in the Ring - Santa's elves have been spreading tidings, good cheer, and rumors that a certain Rated-R Superstar might be gracing our squared-circle stories again in 2020. And while an Edgehead such as myself thinks that's news worthy of an Alter Bridge jam session (actually, Rob Zombie's "Never Gonna Stop" might be my favorite Edge theme), fans would probably - surprisingly? - rather see CM Punk return.
And I get it, he's the guy that has probably the most unfinished business in WWE. He's the guy that created attitude-esque "pipebomb" moments for fans who had no idea what that level of storytelling-meets-truth drama could be. And he absolutely was one of the greatest wrestlers of his or any generation.
So I think fans, not quite satisfied with Punk's Starrcast interview, toyed with by Punk's FOX partnership, and ready to drown out any segment they don't care for with a C-M-Punk! chant, want this more than about anything else on their wishlists this year. (Santa, please just don't tell them it'd probably be in a feud/match against Seth Rollins?)
7. New Creative for RAW and SmackDown - Just over a year ago wrestling fans were promised their voice was going to be heard. Things were different. The McMahon family was "back in charge."
But then - feigned surprise - absolutely nothing changed (other than that pesky Wild Card rule).
Yes, there have been criticisms lobbed at RAW for years, and part of the argument for RAW (and SmackDown) being less-than-stellar was always that WWE has to fill more air time on Mondays, and they'd stretched their creative teams too thin by the time SmackDown rolls in. But now that NXT is running a live two-hour show every week - the exact same amount of time SmackDown on Friday has to fill - and they're also putting out the most compulsively watchable pro wrestling product on TV every week (sorry AEW fans), there's no excuse for the Blue Brand to be as lackluster as it's been lately. Especially not with the power of Fox Sports behind it.
Professional wrestling is at its best when telling a simple story - I know this, Triple H knows this, r/SquaredCircle knows this. So maybe someone will get Vince McMahon a copy of NXT Vol. 1 on VHS for Christmas and he'll finally learn it as well.
8. An AEW Studio Show - I'm digging the AEW Dark stuff on YouTube. But what it's not proven to be - at least not yet - is a true studio show the likes of which Mean Gene and others hosted in the late-90's and early-aughts which served as a catchup on the week's events while looking forward with exclusive bonus content around those rivalries.
Yes, the need for this has been mostly negated by YouTube, where you can check out and catch up whenever you're free. HOWEVER, the idea that AEW could expand the universe of its characters beyond the ring by more directly tying in BTE on an AEW broadcast, or by having Tony Schiavone investigate wrestling rumors and stories via interviews like Okerlund used to do on WWE Confidential, is interesting. More interesting yet would be having personalities give their take on stories and the general events of the week (yes, just like WWE Backstage), or doing a Talking Smack-ish AEW show.
Anyway, us AEW fans are hungry for more content. So wrap that up and give me what I want, Santa Claus.
9. See No Evil 3 - WWE's film division has gotten real weird as of late - and by "weird" I mean, the company has started investing in movies that make money and NOT in direct-to-DVD Redbox fodder (excluding The Marine 16 or whatever, which is a legitimate tour de force). But WWE films used to take real chances with darker subject material like The Condemned, where a bunch of prisoners were put on a deserted island and forced to kill each other for fun. Or See No Evil, where WWE somehow made it seem on TV like they were giving fans this weird backstory horror movie about Kane's kayfabe origins, when in reality they just put Kane in an old hotel and had him do the most messed-up s--t to some admittedly-deserving teenagers.
But that's not why I'm here. No, see, See No Evil 2 was where the franchise hit its stride. Directed by the Soska Sisters, Evil 2 brought more panache, humor, heart, and horror into the story of Jacob Goodnight, and in a Halloween 2 send-up, set it against a hospital backdrop. Now that the Soska Sisters are in good with pro wrestlers (with their CM Punk vehicle Rabid just recently released), maybe it's time to make See No Evil 3 a reality. Toss in Punk as a revenge-seeking dad then pitch it to wrestling fans as an icon-vs-icon Freddy vs Jason-lite, and I guarantee you Vince McMahon will stumble over backwards to make this movie happen. I can alreay see his back-of-the-box ready quotet: "That's some good sh*t!"
10. A Better Wrestling Fandom - We're a country divided. Everything from politics to what constitutes a real Christmas movie are fiercely discussed, debated, and eventually used to demean, discredit, and deject - and professional wrestling is no different, You're either blinded by your love for AEW because you "refuse to call out its very obvious shortcomings and worship everything Cody Rhodes does," or you're on WWE's payroll since you actually like something that happened on RAW or SmackDown. There's no in-between. It's ALWAYS one or the other.
Can't we all just agree wrestling is great and no matter what you like, you're still welcome? Isn't it OK to enjoy the kitschy Orange Cassidy shenanigans while still owning a deep appreciation for Gargano vs Cole? Can't we call out WWE when we know they can do better, while still loving the thing we're critiquing?
Pro wrestling is beautiful and amazing, but Pro Wrestling Twitter is often the exact opposite (ugly and dumbfounding?). Let's do better in 2020, y'all. It could be our own Christmas miracle.