Welcome to this big issue roundtable in which Pro Wrestling Musings' contributors share their thoughts on the debut and potential of Malakai Black in All Elite Wrestling.
Our contributors today are:
-Daisy Foster: @boutmachines [DF]
-Sam Brown: @Sir_Samuel [SB]
-Gareth Ford-Elliott: @RHWGareth [GFE]
-Craig William @CraigPWMusings [CW]
- Sergei Alderman: @SergeiAlderman [SA]
1) What are your initial thoughts on Malakai Black’s debut? Do you like Cody Rhodes being his first feud?
[DF] On the whole, I don’t have any complaints. The inside scoop when it comes to Black’s fumbled non-compete period was never leaked, making for an impactful and genuinely surprising debut. The live crowd loved it, the people at home loved it, and I don’t know how they could have done it any better.
However, I do have some qualms about Cody being his first foe, as he’s almost become the barrier to entry into the AEW locker room. That being said, Cody is reliable, an all-timer on the mic, and as long as Black comes out on top (sorry Cody), I’ll be happy.
[SB] Overall I really liked the debut, especially having the blackout teased earlier in the night. I loved how he initially backed off when Cody entered the ring then hit him anyway, it says a lot about this violent character he is playing and was a great statement to make.
One detail that infuriated me though what that Excalibur someone knew that Tommy End had a new name and persona but didn’t explain anything about it beyond screaming “THAT’S NOT TOMMY END, IT’S MALAKAI BLACK!” At that point I hadn’t seen the video Tommy/Malakai put out so was thoroughly confused by it all. I simply just wanted to know how Ex knew that fact. It is minor but took me out of the moment a little.
As to Cody, I think Cody is a great opponent to instantly make him a big deal. Contrary to popular belief Cody does lose it is just that they save his losses so when he does it means a lot.
[CW] It’s an interesting move actually. Cody looked like a man reinvigorated and one of the most interesting performers in wrestling against QT. So having him essentially now be the foil to Black’s entrance into AEW is a high stackes game. He needs to get really good heat otherwise he risks being cast into Cody’s shadow.
I echo Sam’s point about Excalibur. I was also left wondering how he knew. My optimistic guess was that the info was in the Instagram video. Which they did eventually confirm. The majority of AEW fans will need to be caught up, next week, as the crowd were chanting ‘Tommy’!
[GFE] I agree with the points made above about the debut. As for the Cody feud, it’s interesting. Black’s first opponent was always going to be key to his character. How he enters was always going to be important and this certainly wasn’t a let-down.
AEW need a guy who can take a loss but is a *BIG* deal and that perfectly fits Cody. With Black coming out of an institution like WWE, Cody represents the institution that is AEW. The motivation could simply lie in, “what happened before can’t happen again.” Or it could be more focused on Cody as an individual also. His ego, his lifestyle. Or both.
This might even be a better feud for Cody than it is for Black, as it could allow Black to poke holes in all the issues we’ve had with Cody. Which then allows Cody to have a classic Cody babyface promo that wins us all over and reminds us, “yeah he’s Cody and he’s a bit of a much sometimes. But we still love him because he’s open about that.”
[SA] I echo what others have said, that the blackout earlier was a fantastic fake out that made even long-time fans who are trained for lights out to mean someone appearing to be a little surprised. It was a fantastic debut in terms of shock, impact, and visuals. Ex was doing his best to put over the idea that this was not the same person, on some level, as the Tommy End that he once knew, and his look, (the creepy eye makeup,) played into that well.
Cody as his first feud has pluses and minuses. If they are committed to Malakai as a heel character, there are guys he could have gone after that would have put more heat on him. On the other hand, if you want flexibility based on how well the crowds bite on the idea of booing the prima facie evil of the new guy, Cody is a great choice as a guy with the proven ability to swing both ways. I am usually the guy to say “no, he doesn’t” when people are saying “Cody needs to lose this one,” but I’ll make an exception this time: Cody needs to lose this one!
2) What do you make of Black’s character from what we know so far?
[DF] There’s mystery in what he’s doing, and personally, that’s what gets me hooked on a good story. What I appreciate the most about his characterization so far is that instead of shying away from his past, he’s applying it to his present - we see that in the hints toward his past self as Aleister. Specifically, in the continuation of the eye injury he sustained on Smackdown months ago at the hands of Buddy Murphy. There’s content there for viewers to sink their teeth into; things to theorize about, and I’m excited to do just that.
[SB] Black didn’t always hit for him in WWE, even in NXT, and this current character seems to be an extension of what he was doing in the WWE. I am certainly not someone who is going to begrudge a wrestler character complexity but I do hope he isn’t over thinking things with the mental patient scene and seemingly multiple personas. At the end of the day though if he is a badass who kicks other wrestler’s heads off on the regular he will get over.
[CW] What’s great about AEW is that they learn from other industries. For example, Tony Khan spoke on AEW Unrestricted about how he took inspiration from TV when deciding to put wrestlers in the audience for pandemic shows.
Black seems to be an ambitious man when it comes to story-telling and character, and I’m all for it. I loved the early Fiend character, I wouldn’t like to see them go that far in AEW, but creativity and ambition should never be shied away from.
Not a fan of the name ‘Malakai’ but that’s a minor quibble.
[GFE] I like that he’s in a place where his creativity can be utilised. He is an artist after all and whilst his stuff won’t be for everyone, hell I’ve not clicked with a lot of the character stuff he’s done in WWE; he will be something different, and you can’t really put a price on that.
I quite like the idea that he sees himself as a different entity now. It’ll be interesting to see what his motives are beyond Cody. How will he treat championships for example? Will he end up in these random mid-card feuds like other guys, or will AEW save him for when they have a specific story to tell? I hope it’s the latter or his character could die a slow, Fiend-like death.
[SA] I love that Black wants to do something completely different. I hope and have some faith that Tony Khan learned from giving in to what the talent wanted to do that felt wrong to him—in letting Matt Hardy teleport—and will set good boundaries on how Black’s creativity will fit into the overall realistic milieu of AEW. Any crazy thing can happen in a pre-tape, as long as that pre-tape isn’t then treated as a documentary by commentary or talent. I am rooting for Black to get over his brand of sinister evil, as it gives the heroes something different to play off than the corrupt evil of most of AEW’s villain factions, or the brutal evil of Miro.
3) Who in particular do you want to see Malakai Black feud with?
[DF] Darby Allin. C’mon. The aesthetics alone are enough to sell this potential feud to me. I’m envisioning an abundance of black and white, some spooky vignette’s, a lot of thinly veiled threats and a killer, fast-paced fight at the end of it all.
[SB] I want to see Black feud with MJF. These are two characters that clearly see the world in completely different ways and the difference in that could create a very interesting piece of conflict. Tell me it would not be interesting to see MJF scheming, wanting to avoid Black at all costs while a completely uncompromising Black goes on a one-man crusade to permanently maim MJF. It is the same reason I want to see MJF v Darby Allin so much, they are two characters that are oil and water so when they are forced to face off you just know it will be great.
[CW] Kenny Omega. Insert shrugging emoji here! It’s almost always my answer. Despite what I wrote in answer to the previous question, I’m an in-ring guy when it comes to my wrestling fandom. I love the promos and the backstage stuff, but the major payoffs come in the ring. Therefore, what’s the most intriguing match up? Wrestling genius, Kenny Omega of course!
[GFE] Pac. The two had a match together at the 2017 NXT UK Championship tournament. It was fantastic but the two could do so much more. They then tried to get something going later down the line, posting pictures teasing something for the future but it never happened. Now, both are in the perfect company to give them the freedom to make this as good as possible.
Stylistically these two just match up so well. However, in terms of story it’s also intriguing. With Malakai entering AEW as a heel, Pac could be viewed as a sort of anti-hero in this feud. Both have similarities, but they chose different paths in AEW. Pac has actively chosen to go against what he was in the first year of AEW having been locked up for months. Malakai meanwhile feels like he’s been locked up for years, and at this point there’s no going back.
[SA] The Dark Order. Attempting to seduce the lovable goofballs to actually be dark again is a natural for Black. The main representative of Dark Order Wolfpack could equally be Evil Uno, John Silver, Adam Page—there are plenty of options.
4) What are your top five Malakai Black dream matches in AEW?
[DF] Pac, Penta El Zero Miedo, Kenny Omega, Darby Allin and Jon Moxley.
[SB] Kenny Omega, PAC, Orange Cassidy, Jungle Boy and MJF
[CW] Kenny Omega, Adam Page, Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara and Jungle Boy.
[GFE] Pac, Darby Allin, Penta El Zero Miedo, Rey Fenix and Kenny Omega.
5) Why don’t you have some fun? Run wild with some Malakai Black fantasy booking.
[SB] Ok, my idea of an MJF program, since it is what I chose as a feud I want to see. After being cheated out of something by MJF (say the Dynamite Diamond Ring or a title shot) Black goes on a one man crusade to right the wrong that MJF has done to him. No matter what MJF does the uncompromising force of righteousness keeps coming for him, each week taking out another member of The Pinnacle until at the next PPV there is nowhere left to run for MJF and he has to square up against Black in the ring, maybe in a lumberjack or Steel Cage match.
[CW] Lots of Black Masses. It’s such a satisfying move, aesthetically. Two on his first night was a great start!
[GFE] I would like to see Malakai Black corrupt minds over time and build himself a stable. Usually, I’m not a purely aesthetics kind of guy, but just look at Butcher, Blade and The Bunny. They’re lost in the silly HFO faction, corrupted by money rather than having any true character. It’s established that those three are mercenaries so have Malakai corrupt them into his agenda rather than the brutally materialistic world they currently represent.
All the while also, Malakai can speak of a force of nature that is behind him. I don’t know exactly what you call him or when you introduce him, but it’s Killian Dain, aka Big Damo. Just imagine him and Butcher in the same faction. He fits the aesthetic of the group also and then you have your star (Black), mid-card monster (Damo), tag team (Butcher & The Blade) and your women’s representative (The Bunny).
Whilst I do love the idea of Malakai Black being a lone assassin type, and I’d like him to do that for a period to begin with, AEW tell so many of their stories through factions so if he doesn’t have one, things will grow stale eventually. But there is no need to rush this.
[SA] I agree that it makes sense for Malakai’s goal to be corruption, but you can’t “corrupt” guys who are already heels. That’s why I see him going after the Dark Order instead. Getting –1's trusted allies to turn on him will make for some nuclear heat!