There’s so much to look forward to. Potential light at the end of the tunnel for this awful pandemic. Hopefully less global strife and angst (hey, we can dream). And a plethora of possibilities in the pro wrestling world. Christmas may be over, but we still have hopes and dreams. Which is why we’re putting together our 2021 wrestling wishlist. A handful of changes, big and small, that wrestling can use to shake us out of the global funk we’ve been in.
The professional wrestling landscape got hit hard by 2020. Wrestlers thrive on crowds. There were none. Their wallets get padded by a share of the gate. There were none. And though those two things aren’t likely to change any time soon, there’s still hope to make this year better than the last.
With hope in our hearts, and TEAR – IN MY EYE (thanks, Natch), this is our 2021 wrestling wishlist.
The Inner Circle – Keep The Fire Going
Up first on our 2021 wrestling wishlist is the Inner Circle. Chris Jericho’s motley gang of thugs, jerks, and monsters was turned on its head with the inclusion of MJF and Wardlow to the group. And AEW has been milking the potential for drama and intrigue ever since.
Will MJF stage a coup and kick Le Champion out of the group he founded? With two top-level stars in Jericho and MJF, will the group split in two, ala nWo Hollywood and nWo Wolfpac? MJF and Wardlow have found each other at odds once or twice over the last few months. Is this just a big smokescreen to highlight their dissolving? Will Jake Hager register as a Democrat? These are all important questions. And if there’s beauty to be found in the awful toll the pandemic has taken on wrestling, it’s that they don’t have to be answered any time soon.
AEW has been a shining beacon for longform storytelling in pro wrestling since its inception. After all, Cody’s old man made his name off of feuds that lasted months or years. And the fact that AEW’s PPV events are staged quarterly allows for these stories to breathe. There can be a big development on this week’s AEW: Dynamite that might not come to fruition until Revolution or Double Or Nothing. Or even later. The battle within the Inner Circle is one that AEW could and should keep milking for as long as humanly possible.
Also, while we’re at it, can we maybe do something worthwhile with Santana & Ortiz? They’re one of the best tag teams in the universe, and they keep getting pushed to the backburner.
Sonya Deville – Treat Her Like A STAR
The last WWE SmackDown of 2020 saw the return of Sonya Deville. With no fanfare whatsoever. Just a camera shot of her wandering around the back and Michael Cole saying she’s clear to return. Okay, so we’re not off to a great start with our next 2021 wrestling wishlist item. Which is to see Deville treated like the top level star she is.
Deville was instrumental in the only feud at WrestleMania 36 that had any heat whatsoever. The longshot love story between Otis and Mandy Rose. And then a few months later, she and Mandy came to a head in the only storyline that had any heat going into the ridiculously lackluster SummerSlam 2020. Through it all, Deville showed she has the charisma and personality to be a top rate heel, something that’s severely lacking in WWE’s women’s division. Sure, Bayley finally turned the corner as the cowardly, evasive heel, but it took the better part of a freakin’ year for her to get there.
Sonya Deville is a premade package. She has the killer instinct and ruthless streak innate in her character. WWE doesn’t have to take any time to grow or cultivate it. Add to that she’s a whiz at working social media, a talent that WWE seems to regard above all others these days. The sky’s the limit for Daddy Deville (her name, not mine). It’s time for WWE to knock some bodies down with it.
Orange Cassidy – Do It Or Don’t
This next entry on our 2021 wrestling wishlist shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. I’ve been screaming about it for the better part of five months now. It’s time to either pull the trigger on Orange Cassidy or scale it back. One or the other.
Orange Cassidy was the biggest star in professional wrestling from around May until August of 2020. The guy rose from comedy wrestler to bona fide superstar in his feud with Chris Jericho and managed two victories over Le Champion across their three meetings. Including a big win in their blowoff match at AEW: All Out. But it seems like ever since the Mimosa Mayhem Match, AEW has had cold feet when it comes to the King of Sloth Style. They teased a potential run with the TNT Championship when he challenged the late, great Brodie Lee on AEW: Dynamite. But that was just a segue into the return of Cody Rhodes.
Ever since then, Cassidy has either been floating aimlessly in a quasi-feud with the Dark Order. Or relegated to going back to being Best Friends’ weird, lazy buddy. If AEW doesn’t think he’s ready for the main event (he is), then they need to find a consistent direction for him. Somebody to have a meaningful feud with. And it’s obscene to think they can’t. Sammy Guevara, Darby Allin, Kip Sabian, Miro, MJF. These are just a few people that would act as a perfect foil to Orange Cassidy.
In short, this entry in our 2021 wrestling wishlist is for AEW to put up or shut up when it comes to Orange Cassidy.
Roman Reigns – Keep Him Heel
I can’t believe I’m saying this. But this next entry on my 2021 wrestling wishlist is for WWE to keep building on the momentum they have going for (wait for it) Roman Reigns. I know, right?
Here’s the thing. Roman’s return at SummerSlam 2020 basically undid everything WWE was working toward with the Fiend. And his capture of the Universal Championship a week later at Payback 2020 undid it again. Then there was the painfully-boring match that I stand alone in hating at Hell In A Cell 2020. And yet, somewhere in that frustrating match was the birth of everything that’s been working about Roman Reigns’s heel turn. That match was by no means the appropriate place to do it, but it did so much in establishing and building Roman’s character. We’ll ignore for now that it should’ve been, like, five TV segments spread out across three or four episodes of SmackDown.
And the fallout from that being his feud with Kevin Owens. Where Reigns constantly cites bringing people like Paul Heyman and KO “back to relevancy.” That adds a whole dimension to his character and redefines his self-professed role as “Head of the Table.” Right now, Roman’s character is all about seeking validation from those he views as his underlings. A meta storyline where he sees himself the way the fans who’ve rejected him for six years see him. The anointed one. And now, as a character, he’s using that status to inflate his own ego.
I have this gut feeling that the few people with spines in WWE creative are constantly assuring Vince that this is the way. Vince has to be champing at the bit to make Roman his number one guy again. To the brave souls keeping the chairman at bay, keep it up, and fulfill this spot on our 2021 wrestling wishlist.
The Fiend – NO TITLES
In The Incredibles, the superhero suit designer Edna Mode has a simple philosophy when designing supersuits. NO CAPES. They get caught in turbines, revolving doors, and they’re generally just not good for do-gooding. By the same token, championships do more harm than good when it comes to the Fiend. So, it’s on our 2021 wrestling wishlist that WWE keep championship belts away from Bray Wyatt’s psycho clown alter ego.
You can trace the downfall of the Fiend to his first challenge for the Universal Championship against Seth Rollins at Hell In A Cell 2019. This character who existed only as a manifestation of hate and ill will suddenly wants some shiny tin attached to a fake leather strap to validate himself. I’m sorry, what? In fact, every misstep WWE has taken with the Fiend can be traced back to championship gold. And his greatest triumphs have been in the absence of a title on the line. The Firefly Funhouse Match, his work with corrupting Alexa Bliss, and his ongoing feud with Randy Orton.
The Fiend is probably the second-biggest babyface in WWE right now. And he’s accomplishing that without a chase for a championship. It’s time for WWE to zero in on the things that actually work about the Fiend and make those things work for them.
Darby Allin – Fuel Up The Jetpack
It’s time for AEW to put the rocket pack on Darby Allin. And they have all the tools they need to make this 2021 wrestling wishlist item become a reality.
Darby Allin has been a major star for AEW since his first match with Cody at AEW Fyter Fest 2019. He fought the American Nightmare to a time-limit draw, and AEW has played his rise to stardom JUST right. In fact, it’s the polar opposite to the approach they’ve taken with Orange Cassidy.
With the arrival of Sting as both a potential mentor and foe for Darby, all the pieces are in place. Since June of 2021, the guy has been both an opponent and a partner of choice of both Cody Rhodes and Jon Moxley. Two ringing endorsements if I’ve ever seen them. And now, embroiled in an ongoing feud with Team Taz and the continuing intrigue of what his role in Sting’s return will be, there’s no reason for AEW not to push Darby Allin front-and-center. The guy is a hit with kids (a fun side effect when David-and-Goliath stories are done right), his vignettes are a staple of AEW: Dynamite, and the guy is just incredible in the ring. An odd mixture of Crow Sting’s eccentric nature, the death-wish daredevil attitude of a young Jeff Hardy, and the underdog appeal of Shawn Michaels.
If Darby isn’t wearing or on his way to wearing the AEW Championship by the end of the year, we’ll be severely disappointed. Come on, AEW, check this box on our 2021 wrestling wishlist!
WWE – Don’t. Push. The. Legends.
I know there’s no hope of fulfilling this piece of our 2021 wrestling wishlist. Why, you ask? Well, because WWE. That’s why. They can’t help themselves. Are you new here?
Anyway, the upcoming ‘Legends’ episode of Raw pretty much dashes this hope, but it’s time for WWE to take advantage of a bad situation. The big stars of old shouldn’t be traveling when there’s still a pandemic raging. And popping one big rating isn’t going to solve your systemic woes. Not that WWE will ever recognize that.
WWE’s legacy is part of its appeal, I get that. It’s fine to see Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels pop up on TV to give a pep talk to some down-on-their-luck babyface. What isn’t fine is for Goldberg to beat people up on PPVs and then disappear back into the shadows. Learn from yourselves, WWE. For once in you’re blasted existence, learn from yourselves.
AEW’s Big Men – A Proposal
I generally try to shy away from bringing up specific ideas that I think would be good for either of the big two promotions. But this is one 2021 wrestling wishlist item I just couldn’t let go. Like the rest of the pro wrestling world, my thoughts have been heavy with the unfortunate loss of Brodie Lee.
The AEW: Dynamite special honoring his life was easily the best wrestling tribute show ever conceived. But it’s got me thinking about another way AEW could honor the late Exalted One.
One of WWE’s semi-annual missed opportunities is their handling of the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Anybody else remember how excited they were when Cesaro won the first one at WrestleMania XXX? It was a breath of fresh air and it thrilled us with the possibilities of where the Swiss Superman could go from there. Spoilers, he went nowhere. Actually, he went worse than nowhere. He fell into gimmick rebranding hell. But, the loss of Brodie got me thinking of an in-ring presentation that could continually honor him.
Then I thought about just how many big men are in AEW. Luchasaurus, Wardlow, Powerhouse Hobbs, Brian Cage, Jake Hager, Lance Archer. And countless others on AEW Dark waiting to make their mark on the big stage. When AEW commits to a hoss fight, it’s usually a sight to see. So why not take advantage of that?
The Brodie Lee Memorial Tournament of Giants. Set some arbitrary criteria for eligibility. This is pro wresting, the rules don’t have to be air tight. Just have an annual showcase of gargantuan grapplers, all waiting for their chance to be the next big thing. Pun intended.
It would be a perfect reminder of an unforgettable talent. And something beautiful we can check off of our 2021 wresting wishlist.
Feature image courtesy of WWE.