The 6 Most Important WWE and AEW Booking Decisions for Rest of 2021
Professional wrestling is in a great place right following CM Punk's debut on last week's episode of AEW Rampage and some big surprises at WWE SummerSlam. It is truly an exciting time to be a fan.
There is more parity in the industry than there has been for a long time, and some notable free agents will ensure there is plenty to speculate about in the upcoming months.
It seems like there is something for everyone. WWE, the biggest wrestling company in the world, has had its share of bad press this year, but it continues to create memorable moments. If nothing else, Roman Reigns is the highlight of its weekly programming, and it's equally refreshing to see The Usos return to form.
Meanwhile, All Elite Wrestling has carved out its own niche as an alternative to the global juggernaut with a focus on high-octane matches and unique characters. Signing someone as revered as Punk, and potentially Daniel Bryan, will make Dynamite and Rampage must-see watches for the remainder of the year.
With just four months left in 2021, both companies have time to tell more compelling stories and garner positive buzz. These are six important booking decisions that can help WWE and AEW continue to grow to close the year.
Reestablish Scorpio Sky as Someone to Watch
For a vocal section of fans, the lack of a strong Black singles wrestler is the most glaring issue with AEW's programming.
During the company's maiden year, Scorpio Sky seemed like the answer to that problem. He was the most recognizable among The Elite's core fanbase as part of its extended family. Even more, he had an impressive run in 2019 punctuated by an upset win over Chris Jericho.
After Sky and Frankie Kazarian became the inaugural AEW world tag team champions, he further set himself apart from the pack as the first man on the roster to pin Le Champion on the Nov. 13 episode of Dynamite. The feat granted him an opportunity to compete for the AEW World Championship. This seemed to signal a bright future for the youngest member of SoCal Uncensored
Unfortunately, the 38-year-old lost momentum after SCU dropped the titles to "Hangman" Adam Page and Kenny Omega last January and he unsuccessfully challenged Cody Rhodes for the TNT Championship. Then, a torn meniscus kept him off television for a good part of 2020.
Sky seemed poised for another big year in 2021 after he won the Face of the Revolution ladder match at Revolution. However, he was unable to halt Darby Allin's 186-day reign as TNT champion on March 10, and he suffered a high-profile loss to the straight-edge wrestler and Sting at Double or Nothing.
On this week's episode of Dynamite, The Men of the Year returned as Dan Lambert touted Sky's MMA background. Hopefully, this is a positive sign and there are plans for him moving forward.
AEW could definitely use an African American competitor who is capable of becoming a fixture in its main event scene, and Sky is possibly the best option.
Develop New Stars on WWE Raw
Raw is easily WWE's worst weekly series at the moment, and that's largely because SmackDown has most of the biggest stars on its roster.
Of course, the show has several flaws, but a major Superstar and an overarching storyline could disguise them. That's precisely why the blue brand is consistently better even though it has similar problems at times. It's hard to tell when Roman Reigns is doing the best work of his career and carrying the brand.
WWE will likely address this with the upcoming draft, but Raw could use some new stars who can step up and become a focal point. The company hasn't done a great job in that department lately even though someone like Rhea Ripley or Karrion Kross should have fared much better.
NXT call-ups haven't been nearly as impactful recently. Kross and Ripley are the latest examples of an apparent disconnect awaiting stars from the black-and-gold brand who move up to Raw or SmackDown. There has been plenty of discussion about what will become of the company's developmental process following a string of abrupt releases, but you can see the real effects of an absence of new stars on Monday nights.
Conversely, Damian Priest is having a solid year, but there needs to be more of a push to develop fresh faces to close out the year.
Create More Meaningful Storylines Featuring AEW Women’s Division
The AEW women's division has improved leaps and bounds this year. The roster is filled with several competitors who could conceivably be contenders for the title or the next big thing.
The division has more depth than many fans may realize, including names such as Thunder Rosa, Jade Cargill, Kris Statlander, Hikaru Shida, Nyla Rose, Red Velvet, Tay Conti, Riho and Serena Deeb. Meanwhile, Britt Baker is one of the hottest stars in the company, and her reign as champion is off to a good start.
The talent is clearly there, but AEW just doesn't put the same effort into telling meaningful and long-form stories with its brightest. It's the biggest problem that continues to plague an otherwise fantastic product.
On a positive note, Rampage will give the company an extra hour every week to showcase its women's roster. If the first two episodes are anything to go on, it seems that's the direction for the new weekly series. AEW has done a great job using its flagship show to introduce a matchup and settle it on Friday nights over the last two weeks.
Hopefully, that trend continues but AEW must do more in this category across the board. There's plenty to like about the current crop of talent, but some fans won't invest in them until they see more of what they can do consistently.
Put Bianca Belair Back on Track to End the Year Strong
One could best describe SummerSlam as a show of two halves.
The Biggest Party of the Summer got better in the second half, but it never really recovered after Bianca Belair lost the SmackDown Women's Championship in a matter of seconds.
Becky Lynch's long-awaited return should have been the biggest headline last Saturday. Instead, her controversial win over The EST of WWE was the most talked-about moment of the night, and not in a good way.
It's hard to understand why WWE would sacrifice its best protagonist for a cheap shock even if it leads to a great feud. After all, Belair was having a phenomenal year, starting with her Royal Rumble win and continuing through her historic appearance in the main event of WrestleMania 37. It's a baffling decision that could do more harm than good.
This seems similar to the way the company derailed Rhea Ripley's breakout year in 2020. Still, there are ways to salvage this, but WWE has to be careful.
It's important to put Belair back on her trajectory to grow into a big star. The Knoxville, Tennessee native was on the right track, and it would be a shame for her to end 2021 on a sour note.
Put ‘Hangman’ Adam Page Back in the Title Picture
Adam Page may have fallen short of his goal to be the first AEW world champion, but he is possibly the most popular babyface on the roster right now.
When the live crowds returned, he consistently got the loudest reaction at most shows, including Double or Nothing where he picked up a win over Brian Cage. As such, it became clear that it was time for him to take his rightful place at the top of the card and challenge former tag team partner Kenny Omega for the title.
It was easily the hottest story heading into All Out on Sept. 5, but Page and The Dark Order were unable to defeat the Super Elite to earn a title shot, and he has been on a hiatus for the past few weeks. Nevertheless, everyone’s favorite drunken cowboy should still be the most likely contender to end Omega’s reign.
Delaying their inevitable showdown may not be a bad thing because there are still plenty of stories to tell with The Best Bout Machine as champion. But AEW can’t let Page get lost in the shuffle with so many established stars like CM Punk joining the roster.
Plotting out his return and reigniting his motivation to defeat Omega for the company’s top prize has to be the most important storyline on the docket.
Establish a Legitimate Contender to Face Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns has carried SmackDown on his back since his return at SummerSlam last year. His new persona, The Tribal Chief, has been a revelation for WWE and the gratifying conclusion to years of work to mold him into a top star.
Right now, Reigns represents a significant obstacle for the rest of the roster to aspire to eventually overcome. That leads us to the only drawback to the way WWE has presented him this year: So far, there is no one on his level who could believably dethrone him.
This isn't the worst problem to have because it creates an excellent opportunity to mint a wrestler who is on the cusp of superstardom like Big E. Still, WWE has to start building up credible contenders because if it waits too long, his heel run will be all for naught.
To get the best out of this character, the company should be able to use the same logic and long-term story that dictates Page is destined to defeat Omega. There is no visible counterpart for Reigns and that's a little troubling. Someone has to grow into that position soon, and the plan shouldn't be to give the win to a legend like The Rock or Brock Lesnar. That doesn't do anything for the current roster or the future of WWE.
It's so important to execute this properly, and there should be a plan to start booking this before WrestleMania season next year if fans are going to buy into it.