Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso was on a recent episode of The Wrestling Inc. Daily podcast where he and Wrestling Inc. Managing Editor Nick Hausman reflected on pro wrestling in 2020. Barrasso joked that 12 months felt like years, but he recounted all of the big things that happened in the beginning of the year before the pandemic hit the world.
“For 12 months, I don’t know how many years we can fit into 12 months, but if you look back at the beginning, look at the Royal Rumble. It’s just a different landscape,” Barrasso pointed out. “It’s a different time. Look at Wrestle Kingdom 14, that feels like it was years ago. A packed crowd at the Tokyo Dome, Tetsuya Naito becomes the guy in New Japan [and Kota] Ibushi can’t get over the hump as great as he is, storyline wise. Drew McIntyre, which was a surprise at the time. Drew was a villain. I’m a huge Drew fan.
“Drew McIntyre was the sidekick for a while to Shane McMahon. That made no sense looking back. Shane should have been the mouthpiece for this this larger-than-life, incredible Superstar, and I remember we were in a dark match in Boston. And McIntyre worked The Fiend after the show during the red light era, and I remember the guy next to me, my buddy Mike, we go to shows together for years. And he said, ‘Are they going to turn him babyface?’ And I said, ‘He’s got the look right?’ And then come January, The Rumble, and they kind of strapped a rocket, as they say in wrestling, onto McIntyre, but to me, everything changes after Revolution.
“One of the best stories, it doesn’t get enough credit just because — and it’s not a wrestling thing. It’s just the timing. We’re always moving on to what’s next no matter, but Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley. I think Moxley had a pretty special title reign. They started off on the right foot. They had a great great story from November of the prior year into February and Revolution, and that tag match. [Young] Bucks, Hangman Page [and Kenny] Omega tag match, was it the best match of the year? It’s so subjective. It’s hard to say, but it was special.
The pandemic hit a month later, and Barrasso talked about the magic of pro wrestling, the crowd. He talked about how Wrestle Kingdom 15 was an example of seeing the magic of pro wrestling and how that was lost through most of 2020.
“Then you get into the pandemic era. You look back at the early RAW’s, even the early Dynamite’s. The Hager match against Jon Moxley, the presentation was so different, and now, AEW has fans, and WWE NXT has a few too. Wrestling when done best, I thought Wrestle Kingdom was a good example, Wrestle Kingdom 15.
“It was magical to see Ibushi win the title, to defend it the next night. Good conquering evil and there’s a lot of ways to present pro wrestling at its peak. There’s not just one way to do it, but to me, it’s kind of like when the wind hits your face. You can’t always describe it, but you can feel it. Wrestling lost a lot of that magic when you took the crowd away, and it’s been an ongoing battle to figure out how to best present this. Even Money In The Bank, looking back at that PPV, they were taking chances, which is great, but it was so different.
“So many odd things that we never thought we’d see in pro wrestling. I think we’re at a point now where come next Mania, they have the ThunderDome, so they have a better setup or wherever it would be, but they finally found a groove because you need a crowd. It’s integral in pro wrestling. It showed the magic of the fan base too. Quite a year in 2020.”
One moment Barrasso highlighted was a recent one where Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson made their surprise appearances on Dynamite. Barrasso talked about how great that reunion was that was capped off with the Too Sweet in the ring.
“That moment with Gallows, Anderson, Omega [and] The Bucks and you can criticize Impact,” Barrasso stated. “I think their stuff’s been really good lately, but people say, ‘Why would AEW want to partner with Impact? What do they get out of it?’ I think last night, that moment alone, that was a pretty spectacular, special moment that I think would draw viewers. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“That would draw viewers away from a really phenomenal, hard-hitting Finn Balor, who’s still hurt, match against Kyle O’Reilly, who’s this emerging star in pro wrestling, and a guy who’s paid his dues and is going to one of those guys that’s on top NXT sooner than later. We’re seeing that that evolution now. That moment with the Super Elite or whatever you want to call them but that Too Sweet moment, it showed how you can do — everybody can win if you team up and that never happens in wrestling. It’s like, ‘Why would I team with them?’ Well, if you do it right, everyone can win.”
Barrasso brought up his interview with Kazuchika Okada where Okada said he would like to see a supershow with all of the major promotions including WWE and AEW. Barrasso talked about the benefits of a partnership between AEW, NJPW and Impact that can serve to build new stars.
“His comment, in our interview leading up to Wrestle Kingdom was he’d love to have a supershow,” Barrasso recalled. “He mentioned WWE. He mentioned AEW. I don’t think he just was off the cuff because I asked goals for the upcoming year, and that’s what he mentioned. So I don’t think it was something, in my opinion, he just came up with off the top of his head. I think that’s something that’s been talked about internally. I mean, AEW has proven themselves over the last year that they have a very special product.
“Tony Khan’s got a great finger on his pulse with this business. It’s a real team effort. There are so many people in AEW that are well respected in New Japan. Look at Chris Jericho for instance. Don Callis now has a good relationship too, connecting some dots. I don’t know if they will connect in 2021 because to me, that’s something you do in front of a live crowd. It makes sense now with Kenny and Kota Ibushi as your two champions, I mean, come on. That’s storybook. And if Kenny is really what he says he is, storyline wise. He’s this purveyor of championship title belts. Then you need the most prestigious of all. You need the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. It’ll be fun too if that storyline plays out or similar where Kenny keeps winning belts.
“Kenny wins the Impact Championship, which has a cool history too. Some big stars had it. AJ [Styles] obviously helped define that belt too, and the fun part would be the fall, him losing the belts. Who does he put over in Impact that wins the belt and reclaims their company? In some ways, I loved when the NWO started to crack because that was a chance for WCW stars to stand up for the company. Not to say it’s that storyline but I think there’s a lot of potential if that storyline is continued, and I think you need New Japan to make it really special.”
You can follow Justin on Twitter @JustinBarrasso. Barrasso’s full interview aired as part of a recent episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it’s released Monday – Friday afternoon by clicking here.