Quick Takes on WWE's New 'Crowds,' Cody's Open Challenges, FTR's AEW Debut, More

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2020

Quick Takes on WWE's New 'Crowds,' Cody's Open Challenges, FTR's AEW Debut, More

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    WWE's live crowds are about to look a lot different for the foreseeable future.
    WWE's live crowds are about to look a lot different for the foreseeable future.PHILIPPE HUGUEN/Getty Images

    Although it's taken a few months, both WWE and All Elite Wrestling finally feel like they have found their footing when it comes to making the most of the empty-arena era and producing compelling television.

    AEW, in particular, was hot off a critically acclaimed Double of Nothing pay-per-view and wasted no time in delivering an electric episode of Dynamite on Wednesday night. From FTR's debut to Cody announcing a weekly open challenge for his newly won TNT Championship, it was a newsworthy night that successfully set the stage for the coming months of AEW programming.

    Meanwhile, WWE took a page out of AEW's playbook by putting Performance Center recruits and NXT Superstars in the crowd to act as an audience for Raw, SmackDown and NXT. While it didn't replicate the rowdy crowds each brand is known for, it was a step in the right direction and injected new life into the shows.

    It was especially refreshing to have an audience in attendance for Apollo Crews' huge United States Championship victory against Andrade on Monday's Raw. Crews has been floundering for years, so this title reign will hopefully be what takes him to the next level in WWE.

    Capping off the week was the announcement that Matt Riddle will be joining SmackDown. He has all the tools necessary to be a big player on Friday nights, but whether WWE will push him at the level he belongs remains to be seen.

    This installment of Quick Takes will tackle Crews capturing the star-spangled prize and what's next for him, Riddle's upcoming blue brand debut, potential opponents for Cody's open challenge and more.

WWE's Wrestler Crowds Vastly Improve the Atmosphere for Raw, SmackDown and NXT

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    Some fans can call it copying, but WWE's decision to follow in AEW's footsteps by using its performers as an audience for television shows was the right one, as it has already made a major difference.

    It wasn't long after AEW started running in empty arenas that the promotion introduced the concept of its wrestlers serving as a crowd during Dynamite. AEW's electric audience is what makes the shows so fun. With wrestlers in place of fans, it's a different feel yet still entertaining given the circumstances.

    WWE's execution isn't exactly the same, but if nothing else, it's a vast improvement over what it was doing before inside of the empty Performance Center. The PC recruits and the up-and-coming stars from NXT are fresh faces and have made for an enjoyable atmosphere.

    The safety of the Superstars should be the top priority, and thankfully it looks like WWE is doing as much as possible to adhere to the social distancing rules while trying this out. As rehearsed as the wrestlers in the crowd may sound, it's better than the matches being met with silence like they were previously.

    It could be months before fans are let back into the buildings, so it was wise of WWE to begin the process of giving its shows an active audience and bringing back some sense of normalcy.

Potential Opponents for Cody's Open Challenge

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    Days removed from becoming the inaugural AEW TNT champion at Double or Nothing, Cody announced on Wednesday's Dynamite that he plans on being a fighting champion. He will be defending the title in a weekly open challenge, starting in two weeks assuming he can retain against Jungle Boy on Wednesday.

    First, Jungle Boy is the perfect first opponent for Cody as AEW TNT champion. Although the outcome isn't in doubt, the challenger can have a strong showing in defeat and gain a ton from working with someone as established and as popular as The American Nightmare.

    Second, Cody's open challenge has the potential be a fun staple on Dynamite for the foreseeable future, much like how John Cena's open challenge with the United States Championship was the best part of Raw for almost all of 2015. The possibilities are endless for who could step up to challenge him.

    It should primarily be used to showcase the underutilized stars on AEW's roster who don't get a ton of television time or enough chances to shine. That includes Sonny Kiss, Jimmy Havoc, and Angelico, among others.

    Meanwhile, stars such as Dustin Rhodes and Darby Allin have history with Cody and should be looking to avenge their losses to him. The matches could be brilliant if their past encounters are anything to go off of.

    This could also be a cool place for a debuting wrestler (e.g., Zack Ryder) to pop up and push Cody to his limit. It will be a thrill to see who answers the call week after week and who will eventually take that title from him.

Is WWE Finally Ready to Give Apollo Crews a Proper Push as U.S. Champion?

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    It's been almost five years since Apollo Crews debuted in NXT, yet it wasn't until recently that the company started to do something of note with him. His main-roster run has been uneventful because of poor booking and a lack of creative direction, but his United States Championship victory on Monday's Raw was better late than never.

    Truth be told, it's impossible to gauge how over Crews is at the moment because of the lack of live crowds. To his credit, however, he's been able to maintain momentum lately and should be given the ball to run with as U.S. champion going forward.

    Unfortunately, that title has meant next to nothing for the better part of the past few years because WWE tends to treat it like an afterthought. Whether that will be the case with Crews remains to be seen, but considering the talent he has, this reign should mark the start of something new for him, as well as the belt itself.

    Raw has a rich midcard scene, and there isn't a shortage of credible challengers. Angel Garza, Kevin Owens, Aleister Black, Humberto Carrillo and Jinder Mahal are all waiting in the wings for a shot at the strap and could help Crews restore prestige to the title by giving him legitimate competition.

    It's high time the United States Championship went back to being a stepping stone to bigger and better things in WWE. Crews could well be main event material, but fans won't know that he has it in him until he's able to show what he's capable of while U.S. champion.

AEW's Slow-Burn Build to Young Bucks vs. FTR Is the Right Approach to Take

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    Once The Revival were granted their releases from WWE in early April, it was more a matter of when and not if they would sign with AEW. Sure enough, they made it official Wednesday night when they shockingly showed up at the beginning of Dynamite.

    Now known as FTR, the multi-time tag team champions made an immediate impact by refraining from attacking The Young Bucks (whom they have long had an online beef with) and instead helping them fend off The Butcher and The Blade. They ended the segment by shaking hands and going their separate ways.

    This is in stark contrast to when Santana and Ortiz debuted last summer and wasted no time in taking out The Young Bucks, setting the stage for their encounter at the Full Gear pay-per-view. A bout between the Bucks and FTR is inevitable, but based off Wednesday's events, it won't be happening anytime soon.

    Holding off on that money match is the correct call.

    That isn't to say it should headline August's All Out pay-per-view, but fans have been clamoring for these teams to wage war for years, and consequently AEW would be wise to not rush into the rivalry. In the meantime, they can form a temporary alliance or even set their sights on the AEW World Tag Team Championship, anything to keep them from feuding.

    The angle on Dynamite played out wonderfully and left viewers eagerly awaiting FTR's next move. There will come a day when FTR and The Young Bucks are going to face off. When they do, it's bound to be something special.

Matt Riddle Ready to Fulfill His Potential on SmackDown

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    Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio recently suggested that Matt Riddle was headed to the main roster in the not-too-distant future (h/t Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc). By Friday night, he was a member of the SmackDown roster.

    This came two days after he wrestled his final NXT match against Timothy Thatcher in a losing effort.

    Riddle has been with WWE since the summer of 2018 and has been a valuable asset to NXT in that time. He was one-half of the NXT tag team champions with Pete Dunne and Thatcher (in Dunne's absence) up until a few weeks ago, but he has been main roster-ready for quite a while.

    The questions is whether WWE is high enough on him to give him the prominent push he deserves.

    WWE's track record with handling NXT call-ups properly is far from stellar, so there's no guarantee he will be successful on SmackDown. That said, his skills in the ring and on the mic, in addition to his natural charisma, make him a fantastic fit for the Friday night program.

    From Daniel Bryan to AJ Styles to King Corbin, there are plenty of compelling opponents for him to square off with from the get-go and make a name for himself against. It's disappointing that there won't be fans there for his highly anticipated debut, but that won't matter as long as he's presented as the star that he is.

    By and large, SmackDown has been a creative cesspool for many months, but the brand's direction in recent weeks should bode well for him. Before the year is through, there is a strong chance Riddle will be positioned to fulfill his potential in the main event picture—where he belongs.


    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.