According to Fightful, the website who broke the “CM Punk to AEW” story during 2022, it appears that both Mercedes Moné (formerly Sasha Banks in WWE) and Kazuchika Okada, legendary star of New Japan, are both going to join All Elite Wrestling (AEW). This is good news for them, on top of Will Ospreay also joining the full-time roster soon. It has been a tough latter half of 2023 for AEW, with bad luck involving their talent from injuries to, well, a termination of CM Punk.
But this is good news, make no mistake about it. Though the value of New Japan Pro Wrestling is overrated here in the United States, thanks to Dave Meltzer’s Observer propaganda (their AXS show could never draw above 150,000 viewers, while some of their United States shows struggled to draw), nobody can deny that Ospreay and Okada can work. Both guys have good size and weight to look the part, too… At the very least, we’re guaranteed great matches and improved workrate on the roster. If they can figure out character, personality, and communication skills, they’ll really help AEW.
I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but Mercedes Varnado (Mercedes Moné & Sasha Banks) is a really exceptional pro wrestler. Two of my very favorite women’s matches of all time involve her as Sasha Banks and putting over other wrestlers:
(1) NXT Takeover – Brooklyn 2015 putting over Bayley for the NXT Title
(2) Wrestlemania 37 putting over Bianca Belair for the Women’s WWE Title
Both cases, she was the heel and drew a tremendous amount of heat for both babyface opponents to overcome. Sasha Banks was ruthless with psychology as a heel, such as stomping Bayley’s injured hand at Takeover or trying to use Bianca’s hair to her advantage (to which Belair turned the tables on her and whipped her with that tail!).
Sasha Banks was a 6-time Women’s Champion (5 RAW titles, 1 Smackdown) and probably would have had more and longer title reigns if it weren’t for Charlotte Flair being in the way. If you look at Sasha’s record, she always lost on Pay Per View and was constantly putting other female wrestlers over. While she didn’t complain about losing, she wasn’t rewarded for it either. On top of that, she was working in Vince McMahon’s toxic WWE environment and who knows if Vince made a pass at her, she knew of someone affected by Vince, or just heard stories. She seemed to have an aversion to Vince and her frustrations with the WWE related with his creative use of her.
Say what you will, but getting that gig in the Star Wars: Mandalorian was a big deal. That show did massive numbers for Disney+, particularly the 2nd season and he was freakin’ there when the BIG moment hit of Luke Skywalker saving the day. That was awesome and she’ll forever be on that film.
Sorry, but I felt Mercedes Moné was kind of LAME in New Japan. It just didn’t hit right, from her debut to the follow-up matches afterward. It was very clear that her character didn’t fit that environment and that maybe she settled on performing there rather than actually being there.
But that’s in the past, and now she potentially joins Okada and Ospreay as major talent additions to AEW.
However, all 3 have to make significant debuts and creative has to matter.
Going back to the 2006 with Kurt Angle joining TNA. That could have mattered, but the foolish creative team had Angle steamroll Samoa Joe immediately in matches. What could have made more impact is if Joe BEAT Kurt Angle in those matches to show that Joe could hang with a major former WWE superstar. Instead, Angle defeating Joe proved what TNA was becoming and that was “WWE lite”. Same thing goes for the many other ex-WWE stars who joined TNA during the mid to late 2000s and early 2010s. It didn’t matter because the creative was bad or lame.
We’re already not talking about Adam Copeland in AEW. Many of you ridiculed me for a column that I wrote about with Edge vs. Christian, as I was advising that you need to do something NEW with Adam that he didn’t already do better in WWE.
Now, recently, some commenter torched me for always bringing up “WCW” in my column… I use them because the prove my points for me in terms of actually acting like a competing wrestling company. Eric Bischoff slowly building his promotion for 3 years to get to WWE’s level mattered… Bischoff signing away younger, skilled talents from ECW, Mexico, and Japan also mattered. Then, signing the RIGHT WWE free agents mattered. Bulldog in WCW was a failure during 1993, but Hogan, Macho, Hall, and Nash weren’t but then many ex-WWE signings during 1997-1998 were. WCW proves my point on how to compete on a higher stage with WWE and becoming a successful promotion, but also proves my point on how to screw it up.
To make my point, go back to early 1996 for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). The promotion was a disaster heading into WCW Uncensored 1996. Go watch that on the WWE Network, I DARE YA! Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage defeated the 4 Horsemen and the Dungeon of Doom, plus the returning Zeus as Z-Gangsta and a jacked up actor named the Ultimate Solution in a half-assed cage match. Complete disaster of a Main Event match that headlined an awful Pay Per View card.
As Eric Bischoff explains, THAT was the tipping point for WCW and he immediately put forth changes to WCW’s creative. He pushed for reality-based storylines where wrestlers did tangible things and not goofy things like what the Dungeon of Doom was always doing. That and the babyfaces always overcoming ridiculous odds, as Hogan and Savage just did at Uncensored 1996.
The key to the new “reality-based” booking was 2 new free agents that Eric just signed named Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Both guys had gimmicked names, but he couldn’t use them due to copyrights (though WWE would later sue WCW for using Razor Ramon’s likeness on Nitro). Hall and Nash went from cutting the same ol’ WWE promos at the time, but getting really aggressive, forceful, and even violent with their characters. Wrestling fans legitimately believed that both guys were invading and attacking WCW’s talent roster. They would go on to hype having a 3rd guy and that turned out to a newly turned heel Hulk Hogan to form the “New World Order”. The rest is history and WCW rode those NWO fumes into the ground for the next 2 years.
What’s the point?
AEW’s Creative Team (or Tony Khan) cannot squander the full-time debuts of Mercedes Moné, Okada, and Will Opspreay. DO SOMETHING INTERESTING WITH THEM.
Because AEW doesn’t have a good history with bringing in free agents… They either push someone too hard that nobody has heard of, or they completely botch it.
– Matt & Jeff Hardy
– Andrade (back in the WWE already)
– CM Punk (terminated him, back in WWE)
– FTR (had them lose to the Young Bucks immediately and then barely did anything until they threated to rejoin WWE)
– Keith Lee
– Matt Syndal
– Malekai Black
Overall, Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, and Samoa Joe are doing well, while Adam Copeland has been reasonable since his AEW debut. However, I’d argue what Jon Moxley has become since 2021 has been questionable. Letting him bleed so much has been tough to watch.
With Mercedes Moné/Okada/Will Ospreay, you can’t just add them to the roster… No, THINK BIG. Make the debut massive and it causes people to talk about it, or make the storyline relevant. If you don’t, they just become just one of the guys (great movie) or gals. With the money that you’re paying all 3, why waste them?
During 1999, WWE signed Chris Jericho to a deal… How about that entrance?
WWE debuts Brock Lesnar in 2002 and blows everybody’s mind on how destructive he was. Then, his 2012 return was mindblowing too.
John Cena’s debut with WWE, challenging Kurt Angle to a match.
How about Team Angle during 2002, as Paul Heyman introduced them to be the apprentices of Kurt Angle and it was perfectly done.
Weren’t you shocked about CM Punk’s Survivor Series 2023 WWE return? Hell, I was shocked about his AEW debut during 2022.
How about Kevin Owens debuting on the WWE roster and going right after John Cena?
Mick Foley was brought in as Mankind and gave the WWE another legitimate main event star during 1996. He CRUSHED it with a new gimmick that gave him freedom to express his personality and put real fear into wrestling fans.
How about the Shield’s debut during late 2012? FROM THE START, people loved Ambrose, Rollins, and Roman. Complete badasses with matching uniforms and perfect theme music.
And that’s the thing, folks… TAKE THE DAMN ENTRANCE MUSIC SERIOUSLY!!!!!
I cannot stress that enough… I kept thinking “who is this” based on the LOUSY theme music that I heard during Royal Rumble matches this year. The music was SO LAME and SO TERRIBLE that everything blended together and wasn’t distinctive. Jim Johnston, WWE’s former composer, made everything so unique and aligned perfectly with the character. Do you think that Ultimate Warrior gets over without that music? Possibly, but that music always pumped up the crowd. I know when I was younger, I was blasting WWE – The Music CDs loud in my car and was damn proud of it.
Go watch Chris Jericho‘s WWE debut from 1999… It is PERFECT. They gave him the BEST music that fit his new WWE character, along with awesome Titantrons. Without saying a word, Chris Jericho was instantly over. Then, of course, Jericho delivers an awesome promo and got into a verbal sparring match with the Rock. Jericho had one hell of a WWE career after that for the next 15 years or so.
AEW must make Mercedes Moné, Okada, and Will Ospreay as BIG DEALS in AEW, and it’s not always about wins and losses. It’s about PRESENTATION… If you’re presented as a star correctly, it doesn’t matter who your opponents are. Throughout the end of 1999, Chris Jericho didn’t exactly have the best of luck at first. Then, once he got used to the WWE star, he got red hot during the year 2000. He then headlines Wrestlemania 18 as combined WWE/WCW Champion. Point being, his 1999 WWE debut made fans believe in Chris Jericho from day one and kept Jericho’s starpower growing even if the rest of 1999 had its struggles adapting to the WWE system.
Everything from music, entrance, and to the apparel that they are wearing matters. If you cannot capture the attention and imagination of wrestling fans before the match even starts, then inside the ring won’t matter. As good as Okada and Ospreay may be inside the ring, if they don’t get their presentation and characters right, nobody will care about their in-ring stuff. Star rewards on matches don’t matter here in the United States.
Getting back to WCW during early 1996… The WCW Uncensored 1996 Pay Per View was on March 24th, 1996… Scott Hall makes his WCW return on May 27th, 1996.
DO YOU SEE THAT?!?? In just 3 months, Eric Bischoff turned around the Creative direction of WCW. 3 months!
That’s why I keep mentioning history, folks… As the great George Santayana says, “those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it”. Well, those who remember history can understand how pro wrestling works and how amazingly things can turn around for the better.
So if you think that Tony Khan is ruined, well, I’d suggest with these 3 free agents, he has major opportunity. He could either get them over as big stars, 2 of which haven’t been featured in a major WWE event, or fumble creatively and all 3 were just more examples of why Trust Funds shouldn’t be funding pro wrestling promotions.
Don’t mess up their full-time debuts, as Okada and Opsreay have already worked for AEW but Mercedes has not.
That’s why you look back at history, fools, to get perspective on what may happen based on how Mercedes Moné, Okada, and Will Ospreay are used in AEW during 2024.
Push these exceptional free agents correctly with strong debuts and a storyline that people can get behind, and AEW will flourish with them. Botch their debuts and use them poorly, AEW’s rep will continue to worsen. It’s your choice, Tony.
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