Can’t Knock The Hustle: Time To Give Thanks (2022 Edition

Can’t Knock The Hustle: Time To Give Thanks (2022 Edition – WWE, AEW, NXT & More)

By the time you’re able to read these words of mine, it will be one day away from Thanksgiving. Sure, that might not mean anything to some of you, depending on where you live, but that doesn’t change the fact that the holiday has arrived for many of us.

Thanksgiving is important for a lot of reasons. For some, it’s the large spreads of food to partake in and stuff yourself with. Other people enjoy spending time with their loved ones, some of whom they haven’t seen in a long time. For others, it’s all about the shopping, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals causing people to spend something in the vicinity of $20 billion every year. Some people find Thanksgiving important because it is the final bridge to Christmas. Thanksgiving weekend is when the average family puts their Christmas tree up and begins to decorate their homes, inside and out, with Christmas lights and decorations.

Of course, what should be the most important part of Thanksgiving is just as the name of the holiday suggests… it’s the time for people to give thanks to and for what means the most to you, from your family to your job to your health, or whatever it might be.

For the last several years, I’ve put out a column where I do just that, but for the wrestling world. Instead of complaining about this and that, I want to use this time to talk about what I have been thankful for in the world of wrestling this year. Maybe it’s a wrestler. Perhaps it’s a match. Maybe it’s a story. Whatever it is, this is where I get to praise some of the things I’ve enjoyed in 2022. It won’t be everything I have loved this year, because that column would be too long, and it won’t necessarily be all the best things from the year, because that’s where my annual year-end awards column comes in, but you get the point.

These will be listed in no particular order, by the way. With all of that said, let’s get this show on the road.

 

Bryan Danielson: The man has received tons of praise through the years, but I don’t think he has received enough. When you look at the list of the greatest professional wrestlers of all-time, Danielson had better be at, or near, the top of your list, or I will have a difficult time taking you seriously. He has been doing his thing for over two decades now, and at the age of 41 with plenty of serious injury history in his past, there’s no telling how much time he has left. I want to be able to truly appreciate the greatness. No matter what it takes to make a great pro wrestler, he excels at it. He can fly around the ring, brawl like someone much bigger than he is, mat wrestle like nobody’s business, work a “sports entertainment” match, succeed as a face, succeed as a heel, make you love him, make you hate him, cut a memorable promo, be incredibly serious, be incredibly silly… the list goes on and on. As I’ve said before, I think his AEW run has hurt his overall legacy so far. He’s still having really good-to-great matches, but winning the non-title matches, only to lose the title matches, and then winning the non-title matches again means that he’s kind of just… there. He is never truly elevated to the top, but he’s never at the bottom, either. When you’re doing that, but winning midcard titles or tag team titles, that’s one thing. Doing it without winning those titles makes a world of difference. No matter what, though, we’re witnessing true greatness whenever he steps foot in a wrestling ring, and I hope you all appreciate it. I know I do.

A Strong Batch Of Wrestling Podcasts: Foley Is Pod with Mick Foley. Kliq This with Kevin Nash. Gentleman Villain with William Regal. Wrestling With Freddie with Freddie Prinze Jr. Arn with Arn Anderson. The Book Of Wrestling with David Shoemaker. Grilling JR with Jim Ross. The Taz Show with Taz. Folks, that is only a small fraction of the quality wrestling podcasts that are out there for your listening enjoyment. It doesn’t matter what kind of fan you are, or who you’re a fan of… there’s a show out there for you to fall in love with. I love listening to music when I write, as evidenced by my playlists at the end of every column, but I find myself spending a good chunk of time listening to podcasts, as well. Shows like Foley Is Pod and Kliq This are must-listens for me, and I check them out every week. I’ll listen to other shows from time-to-time, especially when it’s really late at night and I’m in my office, which is on the first floor directly underneath my daughter’s bedroom, so I want to keep things a bit quieter. It is a great time for wrestling podcasts, even if it does seem like the market is oversaturated with them, but at least the top-tier stuff is excellent.

Logan Paul: The man’s pro wrestling career has been such a unique experience and situation. He has had three matches now, with each match being better than the previous one. As a heel, he seemed really natural, as he was very easy to dislike long before he started wrestling. Then, WWE decided to turn him face, and the WWE Universe responded with a loud fart noise. Cheer Logan Paul? Not going to happen. He kept getting booed in whatever city he was in. When he was placed in a Undisputed WWE Universal Title match against Roman Reigns, I fully expected the face reaction for Reigns to be deafening. I wasn’t sure about how good the match would be, but it was clear that WWE had confidence in him, or else they wouldn’t put him in that type of spot, mainstream attention be damned. That match at Crown Jewel, though… it ended up being one of my favorite matches, anywhere, in 2022. Even typing that sentence out makes me shake my head because of how little that would’ve made sense a few months ago. The match was so good, and so well received by the WWE Universe, that he officially became a face that day. People who wanted him to go away were now calling for WWE to sign him to a full-time deal. He deserves all the credit in the world for committing to wrestling, and not half-assing his training. It is clear that he put his all into it, and that comes across. He looks like he’s having the time of his life. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury at Crown Jewel, but the good news is that the injury wasn’t as severe as originally thought. At one point, it seemed like he might be out of action for at least the rest of 2022 and the first half of 2023, but now, if things go his way, he should be able to return to WWE at some point during the Road To WrestleMania. Paul himself has stated that he reached out to Triple H about a potential Mania match against none other than John Cena. We’ll see how that plays out, but for now, consider me all in on Logan Paul’s future as a pro wrestler.

Jon Moxley’s Sobriety: Even now, almost a full year after he returned to AEW from a self-sentenced stint in rehab, I’m very proud of the man. The first step to solving a problem is to realize that there is one, and he did just that. Upon his return, so much has changed, all while so much has remained the same. He returned in what appeared to be the best physical shape of his entire career, and while he has always been intense, there was a renewed focus in his intensity now. His professional 2022 has been fantastic, putting out some of the best work he’s ever done. He won the interim AEW World Title in June, then defeated CM Punk in August to become the undisputed champion, and won the title again in September after Punk was stripped of the belt after the All Out nonsense. Technically, though, none of that is important. Even if he had lost every match he had in 2022, he would be worth discussing here. As I said, I’m very proud of the man, and it’s great to see him doing well, especially as a new husband and father.

The Creed Brothers: This is an easy comparison to make, but my goodness, these guys remind me of the early days of The Steiner Brothers so much. A team of siblings who have a tremendous history as successful amateur wrestlers and were able to transition to the pro game right away? Sounds like Rick and Scott Steiner to me. It’s not just that. Just watch Brutus and Julius Creed wrestle. They’re looking to bully opponents. They want to dominate and throw teams all over the ring. Sounds like Rick and Scott Steiner to me. Even the weaker part of their game reminds me of Rick and Scott, and that’s their overall charisma and mic skills. Back in the early-90’s, promos weren’t exactly the strong point of the Steiner Brothers presentation, and in the early-2020’s, they aren’t the strong point of the Creed Brothers presentation. It didn’t exactly hinder Rick and Scott when you look at their in-ring success, and it hasn’t hindered Julius and Brutus yet. These two have the potential to be special. The thought of matches between them and The Usos, New Day, Alpha Academy, The Street Profits, The Brawling Brutes, and so on makes me very happy.

World Wonder Ring Stardom: Through the years, I’ve been able to watch some Stardom matches here and there, and I’ve enjoyed it. I was able to watch more of their product this year, and it’s just so much fun. Syuri has had one of the best years of anybody in the business, defending the World Of Stardom Championship in multiple Match Of The Year candidates. The same can be said about Saya Kamitani and the Wonder Of Stardom Championship. Giulia, Mayu Iwatani, Momo Watanabe, Starlight Kid, Utami Hayashishita, Tam Nakano, Natsupoi, Kairi (aka Kairi Sane from NXT/WWE), AZM, Hanan, and many more all have a fan in me. Many of the promotion’s best wrestlers are still really young and may not have entered their primes yet, which is scary. In 2019, Stardom was purchased by entertainment company Bushiroad, who also owns New Japan Pro Wrestling, which has now given us multiple occasions of Stardom wrestlers performing on New Japan shows. We also have the brand new IWGP Women’s Title, won by Kairi a few days ago, which will be defended on New Japan shows in Japan, but also around the world. That means more eyes will be opened to the Stardom product and its wrestlers. Don’t get me wrong… I still enjoy the work of many women in WWE, NXT, AEW, Impact, and other places. This isn’t a knock on them at all. I’m just enjoying my time as a growing fan of Stardom, and I wanted to take a little bit of time in this column to praise them for the work they’re doing.

The Bloodline: I am on record multiple times in saying that I have been a huge fan of the Roman Reigns that we’ve been seeing since SummerSlam 2020. His matches have been “sports entertainment” perfection, and the early story involving his feud and eventual pairing with The Usos made for spectacular television. The Roman vs Jey match at Hell In A Cell 2020 saw some of my favorite storytelling and acting in all my years of wrestling fandom, with Jimmy Uso returning to try and talk sense into an openly weeping Roman, only for Roman to lure Jimmy in and choke him out so that Jey would say “I Quit” and lose the match. All of that was great to me, but now, we’ve seen so many more added layers. Adding Solo Sikoa was a nice touch, and his Umaga tribute means that he’s not just a “third Uso brother” in the mix. However, it is the addition of Sami Zayn that has really taken this whole thing to the top. Sami has allowed for humor to enter the story, and he has become one of the most entertaining parts of WWE on a weekly basis because of it. We all know that Sami is going to leave the group at some point, either on his own accord or by having the rest of the squad “turn” on him, but it’s still fun to watch all of the pieces spin. All six men (counting Paul Heyman) bring something entirely different to the table, and the intertwining of relationships (Sami and Jimmy are friends, but Jey hates Sami, etc.) is a lot deeper and more intricate than you usually see on WWE programming.

Konosuke Takeshita: Takeshita was one of the more consistently impressive in-ring performers in all of AEW this year. As I’ve said in my columns, though, it was disappointing that all those great matches ended up with him having a 2-7 record on television. With matches against the likes of “Hangman” Adam Page, Eddie Kingston, Jon Moxley, and Claudio Castagnoli, it’s clear that Tony Khan is a fan of his, too. I just wish he could’ve had more meaningful storylines that would lead to more wins. Now, with the news that he has officially signed with AEW (although he remains a contracted wrestler for DDT Pro in Japan, as well), perhaps it’s time to see Takeshita reach new heights in 2023.

WWE Making “Secondary” Titles Important: Before I even get this one started, trust me… I know that a lot of this became a necessity because WWE booked themselves into a corner. With that said, look at what’s going on there. Without a World Champion on Raw, the United States Title has been elevated because it was held by Bobby Lashley and now, Seth Rollins. The title is defended in lengthy main events on television pretty regularly now, and it has become very important to even be seen in the title picture. Even with the company’s top performer calling Smackdown home, the Intercontinental Title has been given new life since Gunther won it five-plus months ago. Like the United States Title on Monday nights, the Intercontinental Title is regularly defended in lengthy main events on Friday nights. Gunther looks like an unstoppable monster, only adding to the prestige. You’re even seeing this type of thing in NXT, where the North American Title has been viewed as being on par with the NXT Championship. While Carmelo Hayes wasn’t the first North American Champion to elevate the title, he has been the most vocal about wanting to make people see the title as a big deal. For way, way too long in WWE, midcard titles didn’t mean much of anything, no matter who held them. The belts changed hands too frequently. There weren’t any real stories being devoted to the titles or the chase of said titles. The people who possessed the titles were often viewed by fans as “unworthy” of that type of thing. It was one of Vince McMahon’s many horrible mistakes while he was in charge. While we’re on that subject…

Vince McMahon’s Departure: For years, WWE fans would “fantasy book” what would happen with the company’s product if Vince McMahon were to no longer be involved in the creative process. Maybe they’d do it publicly, and maybe they’d do it privately, but they’d do it nonetheless. You know the deal. If Vince isn’t with WWE anymore, then this wrestler probably gets pushed more, that wrestler doesn’t get pushed at all, this type of wrestling gets a bigger focus, this part of the television presentation will be different, and so on and so forth. Well, four months ago, we reached a day that we didn’t think would actually happen… Vince announced his retirement as a million different rumors and stories of marital infidelity, improper conduct, and hush money payments swirled around his head. I’m not going to get too in-depth here, because I think I’ll do a full column on the topic at some point soon, but damn, WWE is so much more enjoyable without Vince around. Each “problem” that was “fixed” without much effort just showed how poor of a job Vince was doing in the first place.

You: Yes, again. When I do this column every year, I have to make time to tell you that I’m thankful for you. Whether you’ve been reading my work for 15 years now, or this is the first time you’ve clicked any one of my links, I literally couldn’t do this without you. Thank you for the comments, suggestions, column ideas, debates, motivation, and the reads. After a few thousand columns posted, I still find myself having fun watching and talking about this wild, wacky sport that we can’t seem to get enough of. With another year almost in the bag, I look forward to thanking all of you again 12 months from now.

 

As I always tend to do, I’m turning things over to you now. What wrestling-related things are you thankful for in 2022? Hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage) while that hellscape is still up and running, and let me know what’s on your mind. Enjoy Thanksgiving. To everyone else, enjoy your Thursday.

 

 

Weekly Power Rankings

Death Triangle vs The Elite: I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but AEW knows how to deliver when it comes to these types of matches. This was the logical way to bring The Elite back to the company after everything that happened after All Out, and the match didn’t disappoint. I know some people are concerned with this being turned into a Best-Of-Seven match series, and I get it, but I’m pretty excited. I do wonder how they’re going to keep the matches fresh enough to stretch the series out, but I haven’t seen any reason to doubt that they’ll be able to do it.

Chris Jericho vs Claudio Castagnoli vs Bryan Danielson vs Sammy Guevara: Oh, hey, another title match loss for Bryan Danielson! At least the match was a lot of fun, even though it fell victim to the same formula that all of these types of matches do, where at least one person has to sell on the outside of the ring for several minutes while everyone else fights in the ring, only for that person to rejoin the match, just in time for someone else to take a powder and sell on the outside for a while.

Jungle Boy vs Luchasaurus: Christian Cage’s injury really screwed this feud up. It’s just one of those unfortunate accidents that happen in wrestling. Obviously, Jungle Boy will try to get his revenge on Christian at some point down the road when Cage is able to wrestle again, but this was a good way to (hopefully) end this feud for now. Luchasaurus looked like the monster that he needed to be, but Jungle Boy looked like a star with the heart and the fight that he was able to show, bleeding a ton and coming back to win the match. It’s time for JB to go after some singles gold.

Wes Lee vs Carmelo Hayes: We know what these two can do, and they got yet another chance to show that off. With Lee picking up the victory and moving on to another feud (more on that later), the rumor mill is in full swing about the future of Carmelo Hayes. Will he be moved to Raw or Smackdown? Is he going to go after the NXT Championship? He’s too good to take too many steps back after failing to regain the North American Title, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Jon Moxley vs MJF: I really liked the match, and I have zero problem with MJF being the new AEW World Champion. That’s perfectly fine. I just wish they didn’t go with the easy finish that everyone saw coming from miles away. Whether MJF won clean to truly signal the start of a new era, or something else, but the Regal thing was choreographed from the moment that he and MJF had their big promo battle a few weeks ago. With this said, I’m sure Regal will have an explanation on Dynamite this week that makes perfect sense, but for now, it just bugs me, you know? It’s also admitting that the Blackpool Combat Club was a bit of a disappointment. There was a ton of potential there, and then it ended up being, as I said, a disappointment.

The Brawling Brutes vs The Judgment Day: WWE does the six-man tag thing pretty well, too. The “Sheamus Is A Face Again” World Tour continues on, and seems to be successful so far.

Death Triangle vs Top Flight & AR Fox: Fox has wrestled a handful of matches on AEW’s YouTube shows, but this was his television debut for the company. I’m shocked it has taken this long. He’s someone that has been impressing fans for well over a decade now, with successful runs in EVOLVE, Lucha Underground, CZW, AAW, FIP, and more. Even in a losing effort here, Fox is the one getting talked about the most. It was announced that Fox had been offered an official AEW contract, but as of the moment I type this, there hasn’t been word about his status. We haven’t seen the “AR Fox Is All Elite” tweet from Tony Khan or anything yet. He deserves it, that’s for sure.

Bron Breakker: I’m not sure why it took this long, but we finally got some sort of character development for Bron in the form of a vignette where he actually got to be himself. He even mentioned that, while he’s out fishing on his boat, he can escape and doesn’t have to be “Bron Breakker” all the time. Hell, the man even spoke in a normal voice, and not the eerie combination of his father and uncle’s voices that we see on NXT programming every week. It wasn’t much, but things like this can go a long way toward making him come across as a regular guy that NXT fans can relate to and cheer for.

Bryan Danielson & Claudio Castagnoli vs Chris Jericho & Sammy Guevara: A nice little amuse-bouche for what was to come at Full Gear. Nothing more, nothing less.

Eddie Kingston’s Emotional Full Gear Pre-Show: Kingston has been very vocal about how Jun Akiyama is a personal hero to him, and that a match against Akiyama was one of the only “dream matches” that he had. Well, Tony Khan has basically turned AEW pay-per-view pre-shows into Eddie Kingston’s personal playground, first with a match against New Japan’s Tomohiro Ishii before All Out in September, and now, with the Akiyama match. When it was all over, you could tell just how much it meant to Kingston, who couldn’t contain his emotions. He was openly crying after picking up the win, bowing and showing tremendous respect to one of All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH’s all-time greats. If you’ve been reading my work for a long time, you know one of my favorite things in wrestling is when wrestlers show real emotion. I love it when someone sheds tears when they win a title, showing how much it means to them, as it should if they’ve been dreaming about it since they were a kid. While this wasn’t for a title, it meant so much more to Kingston, and he wasn’t afraid to let the world see that. A great moment, without a doubt.

Samoa Joe: The reports of his demise were an exaggeration, apparently. He’s still the RoH Television Champion, but now, he surprised a bunch of people by becoming the AEW TNT Champion at Full Gear. A Samoan holding two titles at the same time? Pssshhh… that will never work. In all seriousness, I think this was a good move, at least in the short term, depending on where AEW goes with this. Nothing against Wardlow, but Joe can have better matches with a bigger variety of opponents, even if he has lost a step or two due to injuries. That, and it’s easier to write the story of someone like Jungle Boy coming along and knocking Joe off to take the title at some point.

Ricochet vs Mustafa Ali: It’s probably time to start packing up any hopes that Mustafa Ali will get a serious push of any sort. He’s definitely capable of having really entertaining matches, and he proves that when he is given time to do so, but even with the new regime in WWE, it isn’t going anywhere. It’s a shame, really, but it seems to be the unfortunate reality right now.

Matt Riddle & Elias vs Alpha Academy: It should go without saying, but Matt Riddle REALLY misses Randy Orton. Since Orton’s back injury put him on the shelf in May, Riddle has been floating around without anything to truly sink his teeth into. He remains one of several WWE wrestlers that can be slotted against just about anybody to have a good match on any random episode of television or on pay-per-view, but nothing has even come remotely close to matching what he was doing as a member of RK-Bro. Sorry, but this pairing with Elias isn’t working.

Konosuke Takeshita: Unlike AR Fox, we did get the “…Is All Elite” graphic for Takeshita. That’s great news. The only reason this doesn’t rank higher here is because I need to see more proof that he’s going to get a push instead of more of the same that he was getting before.

Jamie Hayter: AEW fans have been waiting and waiting for her to become a champion, and now, she is. Well, kind of. She’s still the INTERIM Women’s Champion because Tony Khan gets a half-chub over that kind of storyline. If Thunder Rosa returns soon and beats Hayter in a match, that means Hayter was never the official Women’s Champion. Yes, that’s how it works. AEW’s official website proves that by listing the World Title history, showing that Jon Moxley became the interim champion by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi at Forbidden Door, but that his official second reign as champion didn’t happen until he defeated the lineal champion, CM Punk, on Dynamite two months later. Thunder Rosa has been pretty popular during her time in AEW, but can you imagine if she returns and defeats Hayter? Whatever crowd that happens in front of won’t be happy.

Bandido vs Ethan Page: I have no problem with Ethan Page moving on in the tournament to earn an AEW World Title shot, as it makes sense in the storylines, but did he have to beat Bandido to advance? Bandido came to AEW and went viral with his match against Chris Jericho on September 28th. What did AEW do with that momentum? They gave him a win against Rush and then this loss to Page. That’s not necessary. I’m just saying.

Drew McIntyre vs Baron Corbin: It didn’t take long for people to grow tired of the Corbin and JBL pairing, did it? There was potential in the beginning, but that has fizzled out already. Corbin is still underrated in the ring, mind you. It just doesn’t seem like people care to see him get yet another push, especially when it involves longer matches like he always seems to get. WWE seems to think that he’s 1989 Ric Flair out there. He has wrestled SO MANY “long” matches on television, and for what?

Kairi: Congratulations to the former Kairi Sane on becoming the inaugural IWGP Women’s Champion. This is a historic move for New Japan, who, until very recently, had no history with women’s wrestling. I’m excited to see how this new partnership with Stardom does for them, and I’m very excited to see what kinds of cool stuff can happen with Kairi traveling the world and defending the title outside of Japan.

Eddie Kingston & Ortiz vs Konosuke Takeshita & Jun Akiyama: Yes, this was the first time Kingston and Akiyama were in a match together, but AEW put this match together very well so that those two could pretty much avoid anything to save it for their singles match.

Dijak: I… I’m not sure what to think. On one hand, I’m glad that Dijak is back in NXT and is away from the T-Bar character that damn near torpedoed his career. However, on the other hand, he came out looking like Alex Wright’s transformation to Berlyn, and then he completely whiffed on his finisher when he attacked Wes Lee. Yikes. On commentary, Booker T did him ZERO favors by calling out “WHO?!?” after Vic Joseph said Dijak’s name when he was revealed as the mystery man interrupting Lee’s celebration. Not the best return you’ll ever see, but I’m still intrigued. He’s such a good “big man” wrestler and can really look great against an NXT roster that is largely filled with smaller workers that can bump their asses off for him. We’ll see.

 

 

This Week’s Playlist: “Down In Atlanta” by Pharrell Williams & Travis Scott… “Heavier” by Roddy Ricch… “Spike Lee” by Key Glock… “Broken Vows” by Morray… “Worst Is On Its Way (HEALTH Remix)” by KoRn, HEALTH, Danny Brown & Meechy Darko… “Dying Day” by Element Eighty… “Soul Burn” by Neon Graves… “Tarnished” by Solitaris… “Ruination” by Violent New Breed… “I’m Dreamin” by Christopher Williams… “I’m Still Waiting” by Johnny Gill… “Give U My Heart” by Babyface & Toni Braxton… “I’d Die Without You” by PM Dawn… “End Of The Road” by Boyz 2 Men… “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” by Toni Braxton… “I’ll Give All My Love To You” by Keith Sweat… “Watermelon Crawl” by Tracy Byrd… “Love Without End, Amen” by George Strait… “Forever And Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis… “Be My Baby Tonight” by John Michael Montgomery… “Life Is A Highway” by Tom Cochrane… “Float On” by Modest Mouse… “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers… “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers… “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” by Billy Joel… “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz… “Uprising” by Muse… “Midnight Rider” by The Allman Brothers Band… “Prelude 12/21” by AFI… “Runaround Sue” by Dion

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