SI.com’s Week in Wrestling provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Behind the scenes of Blood & Guts
The crowd at TD Garden audibly gasped when Jon Moxley slammed Kenny Omega onto a bed of nails during last week’s Blood & Guts match on Dynamite.
That is something you won’t see anywhere other than AEW in mainstream American wrestling. But the bout wasn’t just an over-the-top bloodfest (though that was certainly part of it). A tremendous deal of thought and planning went into the double-ring, double-cage affair, which effectively introduced Kota Ibushi to AEW, saw Wheeler Yuta wrestle through a severely limiting injury to his hamstring and exceeded expectations despite missing Bryan Danielson, one of the greatest of his generation.
And yes, for those wondering: The bed of nails was an idea suggested by Jon Moxley, who has long wanted that apparatus in one of his matches since seeing it long ago on the indies.
Multi-man matches are difficult because of the moving pieces, and that was the case here as Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli, Yuta, Pac and Konosuke Takeshita faced off against Omega, The Young Bucks’ Matt and Nick Jackson, “Hangman” Adam Page and Ibushi. That challenge was complicated since the match took place on live television, which required commercial breaks, a whole different test for the 10 tasked with bringing Blood & Guts to life.
There were other components critical to the match. It was imperative to keep Pac and Takeshita strong, but that was not a problem given the talent involved. Pac is constantly criticized for his lack of size, but his intensity and tenacity in the ring make him stand out. Neither he nor Takeshita could be the ones to tap out, especially considering part of the match’s objective was to build a pay-per-view Ring of Honor title match between Castagnoli and Pac for two days later.
The match also featured Ibushi, who is a former IWGP world heavyweight champion in New Japan Pro-Wrestling but largely unknown in the U.S. Seeing him share the ring with Danielson, who was a retired wrestler dabbling in color commentary seven years ago during Ibushi’s brief WWE run in the Cruiserweight Classic, was a moment that Danielson badly wanted. His injury prevented that from happening, but Ibushi remains on Danielson’s list of desired opponents.
A point of emphasis among those involved was to ensure there was a climb to the top of the cage midway through the match, which is a spectacular stunt in its own right, but absolutely not have someone bump from the top. That decision was designed to keep fans from expecting there will be a fall from the top of the cage every time this match happens. And it is true—if The Undertaker had hurled Mick Foley off the cage multiple times, an extraordinary moment would quickly become ordinary.
Yet people expected a spot atop the cage, and that was fulfilled by Yuta and Matt Jackson. They combined for a tense stretch of suplexes atop the cage, teasing that they were going over until Yuta played his role as the heel and cowered, climbing back down.
In terms of planning out the specifics, a busy day made it tougher than expected to wrangle everyone together. It ran late coming together, and the match was on pace to extend longer than television time on TBS permitted. An argument could be made that the Blood & Guts match could have opened the show, leading to fewer time restraints, but it made sense to have the signature match close out the show.
A loose finish was planned, but time quickly ran out when calling it. So there was a mad dash to the finish line, with the match ending in a surrender from the Blackpool Combat Club, who were fighting three-on-five after Pac and Takeshita deserted them. The original plan was to have roughly 10 minutes left after the finish, but it turned out to be only two. But instead of becoming the first Blood & Guts match to go black (fans of The Sopranos still shudder at that memory), the finish made sense. A big moment for Page was scratched because of the lack of time, but all of the other key points were hit, with the notable exception being the postmatch interview from Omega.
The postmatch interview still took place in the ring but did not air on live television.
It was an important moment, and perhaps it will air on this week’s Dynamite. Speaking for the Bucks, Page and Ibushi, a battered Omega (who had just endured the entire 51-minute match) admitted that, even if the BCC had not won the match, they had earned the respect. Those seeking a deeper meaning were validated last week when Castagnoli shared that there is valid reason to believe the BCC lost the match but won the feud, considering they forced The Elite to reach new heights of violence to win.
That segment officially closed the long-standing feud between the BCC and The Elite. After crossing back through the curtain, all 10 men were collectively emotional. Omega, the Bucks, Castagnoli, Page and Moxley had wanted this moment for so long, and both sides had an absolute pleasure working with one another. Matt Jackson even had the group all sign one of his sneakers as a lasting memory from the match.
There will be criticisms that the match ran long, or that it was too reliant upon shattered glass and thumbtacks. Yet it is that freedom to create that is a massive appeal, especially when compared to a WWE product where every moment is heavily produced.
Blood & Guts lived up to its name, and effectively displayed the ethos of AEW.
The (online) week in wrestling
- Jey Uso headlining SummerSlam is a moment to celebrate. Very rare is it to see a tag team wrestler, especially one in an iconic team, make the move to singles prominence.
- Still incredible to think Bryan Danielson wrestled for 10 minutes with a broken arm.
Also, to give everyone an update before #AEWDynamite, I got surgery on my arm about two weeks ago, where they put in a steel rod and 9 screws. Surgery went well and I’m on the road to recovery. Thank you all for the support, and check out #BloodAndGuts tonight! pic.twitter.com/6lKHsZk65f
— Bryan Danielson (@bryandanielson) July 19, 2023
- Logan Paul and Ricochet have the potential to put together an outstanding match at SummerSlam. A side plot is that Paul wants to open the card in to make it to Dallas in time for his brother Jake Paul’s boxing bout against Nate Diaz.
Logan Paul is going to try to make it to the Jake Paul/Nate Diaz fight, which happens the same night as Summerslam.pic.twitter.com/xXJkCKhPW7
— Jed I. Goodman © (@jedigoodman) July 18, 2023
- Asuka will defend her women’s championship against Bianca Belair and Charlotte Flair at SummerSlam. I’m not convinced she drops the belt, even with Iyo Sky lurking with the Money in the Bank contract.
Well…..I’m still holding the MITB briefcase anyway.
— IYO SKY (@Iyo_SkyWWE) July 22, 2023
Damian Priest’s moment is nearly here
If you believe that Roman Reigns is going to defeat Jey Uso in the main event of SummerSlam, then it makes sense that a different world title will instead change hands.
Seth Rollins has done outstanding work as the inaugural world heavyweight champion. As champion, he has added structure and a new purpose to Monday Night Raw, two elements the show needed desperately. But a long title reign is not necessary, especially if Reigns retains his plethora of titles through WrestleMania 40 next spring. So, using that logic, we will see a new world heavyweight champion crowned at SummerSlam. And possibly even two.
Finn Bálor’s feud with Rollins extends back seven years. It was at SummerSlam in 2016 when Bálor defeated Rollins to become the first universal champion, but the title reign was short-lived because of an injury he suffered from Rollins in that match. Nearly a decade later, the story writes itself: Bálor avenges the injury from seven years ago in the most meaningful way possible, defeating Rollins for his coveted world heavyweight championship.
But it likely won’t end there.
Damian Priest is ready for a run as champ. A 19-year industry veteran, he is a giant at 6’7″ and has the agility of peers who stand nearly a foot shorter. Priest has the blessing of Vince McMahon and Paul “Triple H” Levesque, and his willingness to listen in his workouts with The Undertaker convinced anyone who wasn’t on board. He also has a major proponent in Bálor, who has been championing Priest’s work since he arrived in NXT.
It would make a lot of sense to see Bálor defeat Rollins at SummerSlam, only to have Priest cash in his Money in the Bank contract and capitalize on a weakened Bálor. You could apply the same story line to Priest and Rollins, but it would be more fascinating to see Priest take advantage of his Judgment Day partner. That ties into the history of The Judgment Day, which saw Bálor turn on Edge to seize control of the group. It also opens up story lines between Priest, Bálor and Rollins. As a first-time champion, Priest could not ask for two better, more unselfish opponents than Bálor and Rollins.
So I think we’ll see a new world champion at SummerSlam, but the twist is that it will be twice over.
A new home
In addition to seeing my work on Sports Illustrated’s main page, I will also begin posting stories to a new page on SI’s FanNation network.
The site, which is set to launch Tuesday, will cover pro wrestling and MMA, allowing me to delve even deeper into those two worlds.
For all the latest news and newest stories, I will continue posting on Twitter. With SummerSlam taking place only 10 days away, next week will be especially active.
While I occasionally have this opportunity when people reach out via email, I’m always grateful for those who read these pieces every week.
Tweet of the Week
Finn Bálor didn’t forget.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.