Quick Takes: Kevin Owens in AEW, WWE Nails MSG SmackDown, Gable Steveson, More
Even with the historic All Out 2021 pay-per-view in the books, this past week in wrestling was nothing short of newsworthy as both WWE and All Elite Wrestling prepare for an exciting final few months of 2021.
CM Punk, Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole all debuted in All Elite Wrestling within the last month, and more major stars could be on their way. Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful Select reported that Kevin Owens' contract is due in January, with Jon Alba of the Living the Gimmick podcast (h/t Bodyslam.net) noting that the internal belief is that he already has one foot out the door.
AEW already boasts an incredible roster of talent, most of which have worked with Owens before. Adding the former universal champion to their ranks would make it that much stronger and create a plethora of possibilities.
While WWE Raw remains a chore to watch most weeks, SmackDown has been consistently entertaining as of late and is coming off its best episode of 2021 yet on Friday night in Madison Square Garden. The stellar show further proved that the company is capable of creating greatness when it wants to.
That's in addition to WWE officially securing Olympic wrestling winner Gable Steveson to a deal on Thursday. His ceiling for success will be discussed in this installment of Quick Takes along with Malaki Black's upcoming clash with Cody Rhodes, Andrade El Idolo's possible new manager and more.
All Signs Point to Kevin Owens Being AEW-Bound
Unless whatever new deal WWE is expected to offer Kevin Owens at the onset of 2022 is too good to pass up, there's no reason to believe he'll stay with the company once his current contract expires.
Based on his booking over the last year or so, it's safe to assume he'd be willing to explore other options outside of WWE. Aside from his feud with Roman Reigns over the Universal Championship, he has largely been portrayed as a midcard player on SmackDown and that isn't likely to change any time soon.
It's very possible he'd be slotted at a similar level in AEW, but at least he would have more to strive for and new opponents to work with. He's battled all of WWE's top names and won virtually every championship there is to hold, so if he's already hit his peak in WWE, he may as well give AEW a shot.
The uncertainty regarding Owens' immediate WWE future stemmed from a tweet he put out—and quickly deleted—with the coordinates to the Mount Rushmore monument. Of course, he was previously aligned with Adam Cole and The Young Bucks in PWG as part of a faction with the same name.
Wanting to work with him them again has to be considered a priority for him, along with being booked at a higher level on the card. Anything is better than him being relegated to talk shows with Logan Paul that don't seem to be leading anywhere, so Owens leaving for greener pastures—aka WWE—should be a no-brainer.
Malaki Black Must Score a 2nd Straight Win over Cody Rhodes at AEW Grand Slam
Malaki Black's AEW in-ring debut last month was brilliantly executed, with the newcomer obliterating Cody Rhodes in a matter of minutes. We haven't seen The American Nightmare on AEW TV since.
It was announced this week that Rhodes will return to face Black in a rematch at the Grand Slam edition of Dynamite at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sept. 22. The last time Rhodes took time off and returned, he immediately avenged his loss (which was also booked as a short squash) to Brodie Lee and regained the AEW TNT Championship.
Doing that exact same thing again, this time with Rhodes and Black, would be the wrong call.
It's already been established that Rhodes can't compete for the AEW World Championship, so him beating Black accomplishes nothing. Black should be one of the few people Rhodes can't get one over, at least not right away, and the company can always revisit the rivalry down the road.
For now, building up Black and making him an unstoppable, sadistic heel should be the primary goal. He's on the right track to the top of the card, and another decisive victory over Rhodes would boost his credibility even more.
SmackDown's MSG Return Was One of WWE's Strongest Shows All Year
You'd be hard-pressed to find a two-hour show on WWE TV in 2021 that was more complete or entertaining than Friday's stacked SmackDown emanating from Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Fans were already anticipating the episode ahead of time with Brock Lesnar's return to the blue brand being advertised as well as a SummerSlam rematch between Edge and Seth Rollins. It managed to exceed those expectations by being practically perfect from start to finish, including a surprise return of Demon Balor at the end.
The sole issue with the show was the women not having more of a presence outside of the SmackDown Women's Championship contract signing for Extreme Rules.
A tag team match pitting Toni Storm and Liv Morgan against Carmella and New York native Zelina Vega (who expressed excitement over being involved in such a monumental occasion in an interview with Yahoo Sports) was reportedly scheduled to take place before being scrapped due to time constraints.
Otherwise, it was among the strongest shows WWE has produced all year. Why the company doesn't deliver episodes of that caliber more often is the question, and hopefully it will motivated to do so now that AEW has proved to be legitimate competition.
Will Andrade El Idolo Recruit Ric Flair to Be His New Manager?
The latest development in the Andrade El Idolo vs. Pac program on Friday's edition of AEW Rampage was one that fans did not see coming.
Andrade beat Pac following interference from Andrade's advocate, Chavo Guerrero Jr., which didn't sit well with the former NXT champion. Andrade proceeded to betray Chavo afterward and feed him to Death Triangle, seemingly severing ties with him in the process.
It was a weird turn of events, and seeing as how Andrade still needs a mouthpiece of some kind, the only explanation is that AEW is preparing to give Andrade yet another manager. Based on what we saw at AAA's TripleMania event last month, Ric Flair looks to be the most likely candidate.
Flair received his release from WWE in early August and is free to appear wherever he wants. Surely he'd jump at the opportunity to be involved with a major wrestling promotion on a weekly basis again, and this would achieve that.
As huge of a star as the two-time WWE Hall of Famer is, it's safe to question how much he can actually add to Andrade's act at the age of 72. His last storyline in WWE with his daughter Charlotte and Lacy Evans was abysmal, but with better booking and a stronger creative direction, Ric might be able to do more than we thought.
Provided that this doesn't lead to him getting back in the ring for a proper retirement match, an Andrade and Flair pairing (given Andrade's real-life ties to the Flair family) might have some legs.
Gable Steveson Has All the Tools Necessary to Be a Big Star in WWE
After weeks of rumors and speculation, WWE announced its first-ever name, image and likeness (NIL) agreement with Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson on Thursday. Although fans have already started to draw comparisons to fellow Olympian Kurt Angle, Steveson has the potential to carve his own path and be a big star without having to follow in Angle's exact footsteps.
The reigning NCAA wrestling champion is a well-documented fan of WWE and indicated on Twitter that signing with the company was a "childhood dream accomplished." He added that he isn't the next Kurt Angle but rather the first Gable Steveson, which is how fans should see it as well.
WWE has signed athletes with Olympic backgrounds before, including Chad Gable, but none of them have had the same notoriety and momentum that Steveson does at the moment. The deal that he agreed to will not force him to vacate his NCAA title but rather finish out college and take part in a "remote training facility" while there, per ESPN.
WWE's recent change in policy when it comes to its hiring policy makes this pickup all the more interesting. Although he has no experience on the independent scene, he is as legitimate of a wrestler as they come and can be molded into the performer WWE wants him to be through his training.
With multiple main event players either leaving WWE or being released this last year, the company needs to start looking toward the future, and Steveson has all the tools necessary to fill that void when the time comes.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.