About a year ago, I wrote about my confusion regarding All Elite Wrestling (AEW)’s Blackpool Combat Club (BCC) faction. Wrestler’s Court: The First Rule of Blackpool Combat Club is . At the time, BCC was about five months into it’s run and despite boasting an impressive membership I felt that it lacked direction and purpose.
I argued that factions work best as collections of villains-they’re the criminal gangs of pro wrestling, not the cops. What’s the purpose of having strength in numbers if the group is morally opposed to using that strength to secure an unfair advantage? BCC made so little sense to me that I figured it might just be best for them to pack it in and a keep pushing the group’s individual members as rogue babyfaces.
Since then, enough has happened to warrant a second look at BCC and its future…and consider how a more successful stable can grow and stay relevant, even as some key issues remain unresolved.
In my view BCC’s turning point came with William Regal’s debut, from which the faction would draw its name but he and the rest of the BCC felt woefully miscast as babyfaces feuding with the likes of the Jericho Appreciation Society and the Elite. Worse, Regal’s tenure would be short-lived. Regal, who had been released from WWE in January 2022, would return by December of that year after costing then-AEW champion Jon Moxley his title in a match against current champion MJF.
As far as I’m concerned Regal brought credibility and focus to BCC. He provided a believable reason for Danielson and Moxley to work together and compensated for Claudio Castagnoli’s and Wheeler Yuta’s more limited promo skills. He made little sense as a babyface manager but his character is so well loved that it would be near-impossible to turn him heel. Regal’s momentary alignment with and subsequent betrayal by MJF did more to make MJF sympathetic than to sell Moxley as an earnest victim of a double-cross. MJF re-established his heel dominance with his own sneak attack on Regal during his world title victory celebration-an act that’s increasingly difficult to pull off as AEW keeps teasing an MJF face turn.
If you care about things like continuity or branding, Regal’s departure was and is problematic. It was Regal who knit a faction together out of two wildly different wrestlers, and who set out the simple, winning premise that despite their differences Moxley and Danielson could come together to usher in a new generation of superior pro wrestlers. This premise has been tweaked following the stable’s heel turn, to BCC’s view that they alone put the ‘professional’ in professional wrestling, and all others are, with apologies to the likes of Kurt Angle, rank amateurs.
Regal gave BCC more than an identity: he gave the group it’s very name, after his kayfabe hometown. With Regal gone and no other old-school British wrestlers to take over, I don’t quite get how ‘Blackpool’ fits-except to say it sounds like a more sinister place than Aberdeen or Cincinnati or Lucerne. It feels weird to continue referring to this group by a name invented by a member who couldn’t return to the place that fired him fast enough. It reminds me of the short-lived version of an old WCW stable, only Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Paul Roma would change their name to ‘The Horsemen’ to reflect the fact that they only had three working members.
In March, 2023 BCC would finally listen to me. On the March 8 episode of Dynamite, serial world title challenger Bryan Danielson told us that he was going home to be with his family following a brutal defeat at the hands of MJF. That same episode would see Castagnoli and Moxley team up to beat Dark Order remnants John Silver and Alex Rynolds, then continue assaulting them after the bell. The BCC beatdown would draw Evil Uno and Adam Page (who had been getting the better of Jon Moxley in their own feud), and result in more bloodshed. BCC would be reborn as heels. Danielson would return to the show on March 29, and after teasing an attempt to save Kenny Omega from another beating, would join in, attacking Omega with a screwdriver. BCC’s love affair with the hardware store would be replayed in the climax of a match between Omega and Moxley, which would see Don Callis turn on his fellow Winnipegger, going all Ides of March on Omega with his own screwdriver. This would set up a new feud between BCC and the Elite, incorporating the likes of Don Callis’ new charge Konosuke Takeshita (more on them shortly), the Bastard Pac and Kota Ibushi.
It’s fair to say the last year has been eventful for the BCC even if I still find the gimmick somewhat confusing. Collectively, BCC never read as pure ‘good guys’, as evidenced by their penchant for trapping opponents and knocking them out with repeated north-south elbow strikes to the head. Danielson’s tearful retreat from his match with MJF seemed like a play for sympathy, and neither Moxley nor Page emerged from their feud more likable.
I believe that the latter feud was meant to set BCC off as heels, given the level of disrespect shown by Moxley to Page throughout their feud but for all of the sneak attacks-most recently against Orange Cassidy on Dynamite-and ad hominem promos Moxley seems unwilling to fully embrace his inner heel, which in my view has stunted BCC’s evil evolution. Mox still comes to the ring to audience participation favourite “Wild Thing” through the crowd; a holdover from his Ambrosian days with the Shield that is more associated with ‘man of the people’ characters like Sting, pre 5 second pose Edge and Christian, Diamond Dallas Page or failed babyface Roman Reigns than straight-up villains. I didn’t quite buy Moxley as a good guy, either.
As I noted as recently as last week, his character is unlikable by design. He’s loud, boorish, coarse and shows reckless disregard for himself and his opponents. He may be a great worker but all that blood is just unsafe. Out of character he comes across as intelligent in interviews and can make a fair argument but dismisses other viewpoints out of hand. At a time when we would all do well to take a pause and listen to each other, he comes across as strident and doctrinaire and addled. The constant bloodletting is a turn-off for those of us who like to watch wrestling with our kids and reaches a level of gratuitous violence that seems unbecoming for a good guy unless provoked beyond all reason. Moxley’s turn has thus felt anticlimactic. Whether he’s nominally ‘good’ or ‘evil’ he’s the same jerk, so it’s harder to actively cheer or boo him.
Pro wrestling loves an anti-hero, and as Dean Ambrose in WWE Moxley regularly channeled two all-time greats. Watching him work, I was often reminded of Stone Cold Steve Austin or Rowdy Roddy Piper. Neither of those two men were afraid to bleed for their art: Piper had an infamous Dog Collar match against Greg Valentine, and Austin, bloody, passing out to Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter is the image that made him as a fan favorite. Austin and Piper put forth compelling, tight promos and could wrestle or brawl with the best of them. Moxley is fully capable of doing both as well. His wife, Renee Paquette, recently argued that Moxley is vastly underrated as a scientific wrestler-and given the few glimpses he’s provided I would actually agree with her. But since joining AEW Moxley seems more determined to prove his ‘toughness’ in a predetermined sport, using gore as a proxy for his considerable talents. At this point I’m less inclined to hate him the way that I should hate a heel, and more concerned that between the head shots and bleeding and his documented history of substance abuse, something irrational and harmful is influencing the choices that he makes inside and outside the ring.
This concern carries throughout BCC. The group’s other pillar is Bryan Danielson, who seems to be moving to more of a player-coach role. This may be for the best. Danielson has evolved into an promo specialist and has provided expert commentary in support of BCC. He’s also the smallest member of the team, and if BCC is to grow Danielson’s sadistic submission guru character won’t overshadow any potential charges (as excited as I am for a Don Callis led stable, I am mindful that at over six feet tall, Callis violates the rule that a manager should not be more physically imposing than those he manages).
Danielson is 42-years-old, which theoretically still gives him plenty of runway for his in-ring career-but he has nursed a series of injuries since joining AEW which have kept him out of the ring. In fairness, I’ve felt that Danielson’s career has been on borrowed time since his concussion-forced retirement back in 2016. Pre-concussion Daniel Bryan was one of my wife’s favourite wrestlers-she became a fan less because of his in-ring exploits and more because of his involvement in WWE’s ‘Total Divas’ series alongside Brie Bella. My wife watched the RAW where he announced his retirement with me, and as parents ourselves we understood that while he was disappointed to leave, he had a responsibility to stay healthy for his young and growing family. As tributes go it was a good one, and a fitting end to a beloved performer’s career.
My wife and I were both concerned when Danielson announced his comeback, first in WWE and later in AEW. Much as I still love his wrestling I just can’t watch Danielson’s matches without being legitimately concerned for his health. Danielson might be fine, but if he retired due to concussions I worry that one errant blow to the head might finish his career and leave him in a worse physical and mental state. I also think that given what we now know about the effects of brain injuries and CTE, it’s potentially hugely irresponsible for him to keep wrestling. I don’t need to recite the pro wrestling and boxing and football and hockey statistics to back up my concerns that the longer Danielson wrestles, the greater potential that he may one day become a danger to himself and others. Like Moxley, Danielson’s disregard for his health makes him an uneasy watch and yet oddly sympathetic for reasons that clash with whatever storyline Tony Khan is working.
As I write this, BCC’s lone champion is Claudio Castagnoli, in his second reign as Ring of Honor champion. One might think this would elevate Castagnoli within his group, but he still seems to play the role of enforcer to his more main-event worthy colleagues. Fans have clamored for a World Title run, but it’s clear at this point that while Castagnoli is an incredible in-ring performer, unless he discovers a new identity like Joe Scarpa became Chief Jay Strongbow, or Johnny Walker became Mr. Wrestling II-both well into their 40s-he has likely hit a ceiling proscribed by his charisma.
Wheeler Yuta still comes across as the BCC’s ‘Young Boy’; the member who is designated to take the pinfall in order to keep Moxley, Danielson and Castagnoli strong. I don’t take issue with this approach-in the recent ‘Blood and Guts’ double cage match the fan favourite Elite faction won when Moxley surrendered rather than see Yuta take more punishment (a show of compassion that feels at odds with Mox’s masochism and the callous abandonment of BCC by Konosuke Takeshita and PAC earlier in the match, but I’ll leave that aside for now). My greater concern is that if BCC has found its purpose, policing professionalism within AEW’s ranks and acting as standard bearers for their version of ‘real’ pro wrestling, how long can they tolerate the one guy who keeps losing? At some point Yuta needs to find his own groove and go on a substantial winning streak (maybe even upending a secondary champion like Orange Cassidy) or, like most heel factions, the strong need to eliminate the weak and boot Yuta out of BCC. Maybe then he regains traction with his former Best Friends running buddies.
While BCC is in a better, clearer position than last year, it still suffers from the same internal inconsistencies. At least as heels they aren’t bound by rationality. In any case, the important question is…What’s next? The AEW landscape has shifted in some respects. The Jericho Appreciation Society seems to be wavering. The Elite continues to draw airtime, possibly headed for a confrontation with a newer version of Bullet Club headed by ‘Switchblade’ Jay White. House of Black could use a retooling, but I dig their goth metal energy. CM Punk and FTR have cultivated a loose alliance on Collision and Prince Nana and Swerve Strickland seem to be developing Mogul Embassy, even if most of its roster is fluid. The Dark Order is still kind of there, although there’s now a competing Darker Order on ROH fronted by Stu Grayson.
To its credit, AEW has also featured women-centered stables-something that WWE has rarely put much thought into. Jade Cargill’s Baddies broke up, but we still have Dr. Britt Baker’s team and the Outcasts-Ruby Soho, Saraya and Toni Storm.
Lesser acts like the Wingmen, the House of Hardy, Death Triangle, Men of the Year, the Factory and whatever Andrade and Rush were supposed to be seem to have dissolved, along with the extremely loose collaborative ‘the Firm’, which I understand was meant to support MJF in a feud with CM Punk that never materialized. Nonetheless, these moves open up some further possibilities in storyline
All of which is to say that if BCC is doing better today than a year ago, they should consider where they’re headed next. In my view, this means some kind of expansion to take the in-ring onus off Moxley and Danielson and use those men to help other talent get over.
I’ll finish up with a list of current AEW wrestlers whom I would like to see join BCC. If I’m right, I’m awesome:
Don Callis: If I had written this column a few weeks ago, Callis would have been my first choice. With BCC locked in a feud with Kenny Omega and the Elite, what better way to build heat than to entrench Callis’ betrayal of his former charge? Callis hasn’t wrestled in ages, and if BCC’s mission is to humiliate their ‘amateur’ opponents, he doesn’t need to. Callis is once of the best talkers in wrestling-a throwback manager who’s finally getting the opportunity he never had in WWF as the Jackal. Callis’ wounded, messianic delivery in his feud with Omega would make for great promos, if only hateful audiences would let him get a word in over the boos. It says something about the heat he has generated for Takeshita despite the fact that the latter rarely speaks, and Callis gets drowned out whenever he appears on screen.
He would be he ideal person to build new BCC stars especially among talent who might not be comfortable on the microphone. Unfortunately, it looks like Callis’ and Takeshita’s abandonment of BCC in the Blood and Guts match means this is unlikely to happen in the short term. Don Callis’ adoption into the BCC family offers more long-term opportunities than his current dalliance with fellow Zoomer Chris Jericho. Instead, if his increasingly well-accessorized outfits are any indication I think he will more likely end up antagonizing Omega further as Bullet Club Gold’s manager.
Konosuke Takeshita: Takeshita’s name comes up due to his alliance with Callis, but his matches have been solid and his heel work continues to improve. Takeshita has been wrestling since 2011 and he’s only 28 years old. He’s also 6’2 and powerfully built-an ideal younger star who could carry a faction for years while building his rapport with audiences. Takeshita’s alliance with Callis and potential interactions with Moxley and Danielson can cover for any language barrier in the meantime (Takeshita does speak English, although audiences have yet to hear him carry off a promo clearly). Takeshita would also make sense if BCC’s mandate is to cherry pick the best wresters in the world, each representing a specific style: Danielson as the technician, Moxley as the Street Fighter, and add Takeshita as the emissary of Strong Style.
Pac: Like Takeshita would have been a great call before he abandoned BCC in the Blood and Guts match due to a lame accidental bump against Castagnoli. I imagine that this was done to force the match between the two men at Death Before Dishonor-itself a hasty arrangement since Castagnoli’s original opponent, Mark Briscoe, was injured and the next most logical opponent-Eddie Kingston-was in Japan. I don’t often like to criticize booking since I always like to see where storylines go-but from the heel’s perspective that whole match felt counterproductive. I understand members of the good guy team bailing as a means of turning bad, but in this case 40% of the heel team just decided to walk out on the actual BCC members. PAC and Takeshita are still heels, as are Moxley, Castagnoli and Yuta-so there’s no emotion associated with the split and no point to it, other than to suggest that the babyface Elite were able to go over given their strength in numbers. Which is normally the kind of thing that heels do. My head hurts.
In any case, PAC is another unsung performer who can work every style from acrobatic to power to brawling to technical wrestling and has a misanthropic personality that begs for a better showcase than he had received as part of Death Triangle. I do get that PAC’s ‘bastard’ character would abandon his teammates. He reminds me a bit of Bad News Brown in that way (Bad News famously double-crossed Bret Hart to win a Battle Royal at WrestleMania IV and would walk out of every Survivor Series team he joined); but I would hope that he would take better advantage of the stage provided by a main event stable.
Leyla Hirsch: This one’s easy. In a recent interview with SEScoops, Wheeler Yuta was asked about potential new Blackpool Combat Club members. Hirsch was at the top of the list, alongside the likes of Jamie Hayter, Takeshita and Shota Umino. Hirsch would bring a top-flight female member to BCC, adding representation and depth to the team. During their babyface run against the Jericho Appreciation Society, BCC pursued a loose association with Ruby Soho, who’s now a key member of the Outcasts faction. I liked their dynamic, even if it was never made official. Hirsch is a better fit. She’s younger and has an amateur wrestling background which would fit in nicely with the idea that BCC is a multi-disciplinary combat sports juggernaut. As a character she is still a relatively blank slate, and her Russian-American background adds to the international flavor of the group. While it may be too early in her career to post an AEW title win, neither TBS champ Kris Statlander nor ROH women’s titleholder Athena are strong enough that they couldn’t be beaten by an emergent Hirsch.
Jade Cargill: At the other end of the AEW women’s wrestling spectrum in terms of exposure is former TBS champion Jade Cargill. I’ve written about her before, in the context of a winning streak that was suddenly and anticlimactically ended by Kris Statlander. Cargill is currently off AEW programming and has signalled that for now at least her run with the company is done. I have no insight as to whether this statement is a work or a shoot, but a return to the women’s division as part of a dominant heel faction would be interesting-like Madusa Miceli as part of the Dangerous Alliance, only with a clearly defined in-ring role. Behind the scenes Cargill is said to have worked extensively with Danielson, which is something that could be brought to light to explain their alliance. Of all the potential new members listed here she is probably the least in need of the support provided by a faction-heck, she ran her own group of Baddies-but if representation is important, she would be a game-changer. Of all AEW’s female talent, Cargill is the closest to what WWE has found in Judgment Day’s Rhea Ripley: an ass-kicker who can move a crowd regardless of gender.
Jake Hager, Sammy Guevara and Daniel Garcia: I’m bundling three potential former Jerichoholics together for storyline purposes, although either Hager on his own or Garcia and Guevara together would make worthy additions in their own rights. Garcia has a storyline history with Danielson which took the two men to a series of great matches and saw Danielson actively recruit Garcia into BCC when they were good guys. One could see Garcia gyrating around the ring only to be called out on his silly dance gimmick by Danielson and be brought into BCC to realize his true potential. Lately Garcia has been teaming with Guevara-similar in stature but more charismatic and acrobatic. Guevara is a successful smaller, ‘home grown’ AEW talent but he’s still young and has done his best work when he has stablemates to bounce off of-literally and figuratively. Together they could become a credible regular tag team-something that BCC currently lacks but should look toward if as heels they’re looking to ‘professionalize’ the company. I much prefer this idea to taking up airtime with makeshift teams like Adam Cole (Bay Bay) and MJF-which waters down the importance of the AEW’s world championship and Chinese food.
Meanwhile, Hager has been with AEW almost since the beginning but has little to show for it. In-ring he’s great but has been seen to lack charisma since his days as Jack Swagger in WWE. He was one of the first apparent defections from the Jericho Appreciation Society, having turned in his favourite hat. I don’t know what if anything can be done with him on his own. Given his amateur wrestling and legitimate mixed martial arts background he would fit nicely in BCC and would take over the ‘Barry Windham’ role from Castagnoli, who would be free to be a main ROH player instead of a supporting AEW goon. That is, unless Dan Lambert answers my prayers and Hager joins a returning worked version of American Top Team.
AR Fox and Swerve Strickland: When I first thought of this column I would have pitched Fox as a solo act, but he joined up with Strickland and Mogul Embassy on the most recent edition of Dynamite. Strickland and Fox are next-level aerial wrestlers, and big enough that they match well against virtually any opponent. Strickland has been featured on AEW broadcasts since his arrival but creative ideas seem to run out of steam quickly. Strickland turned heel on former partner Keith Lee (who is similarly lost in the shuffle), attracted a splashy entourage which quickly disappeared, shared an on screen NSFW moment with Rick Ross (not THAT way), and since then has been positioned alongside Prince Nana and the Embassy.
I don’t get that faction, except to say that Brian Cage deserves better than being buried in a secondary six-man division as well. Strickland and Fox are undeniable though, and their wrestling style would standout in the ground-based offence that defines BCC thus far. I wouldn’t imagine any longstanding union, since Strickland’s character is more ego-driven and doesn’t seem to play well with others; but the matches they could have across main events would be great fun to watch.
Big Bill: OK, this one’s a hot take but every stable needs a heater and William ‘Big Bill’ Morrissey is suited to the role. He’s also been underused and made to lose to lesser opposition since arriving in AEW, a shame since after his release from WWE and some well-documented substance abuse issues it seems as though he’s gotten his life on track, much like Moxley. I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed Morrissey’s work since his WWE days, and if you’d asked me back in NXT I would have figured him for a breakout star. He’s a legitimately tall, built, blonde dude with an Irish last name and a knack for reciting catchphrases, which reminds me of a certain 1980s superstar, “brother”. In his mid 30s he should be entering his prime, which means that if he is going to start generating audience reactions he really should be doing more than losing in the early rounds of the Blind tag team eliminator tournament alongside other underused talent like Brian Cage. AEW knows how to use ‘bodyguard’ types to generate stars, at least short-term. Maybe a run as BCC’s enforcer doesn’t turn Big Bill into Hulk Hogan, but a similar character made Kevin Nash into a household name as Diesel. I could throw Wardlow and Powerhouse Hobbs into this category as well, but at this point both men have already served as enforcers and ‘broken free’ only to wind up in a lacklustre feud with each other. Truth be told I think their brightest near-term future lies as a tag team that emerges from the fact that they’re basically the same, power-froward wrestler-but whether that turns them into the APA or Fire and Ice is anyone’s guess.
Rush/Andrade: Earlier in this piece I argued for Konsouke Takashita’s addition as a representative of Japanese-style wrestling. I think the same could be said for Rush and/or Andrade from a Lucha Libre perspective. Even better, both men have extensive experience in American promotions and have shown that they can connect with US audiences as heels-something that’s often difficult for performers whose first language is not English. It helps that Rush and Andrade’s styles are more compatible with their US opponents’ and that both men are on the larger side for luchadores, which makes better physical matchups. Like Strickland and Fox their style may ultimately be incompatible with BCC’s grittier vision of pro wrestling, but it would be a fun story to tell.
Ariya Daivari, Josh Woods and Tony Nese: Last, and arguably least are the “varsity athlete” mini-stable of Daivari, Woods and Nese. I include these three as examples of talent whose in-ring prowess has been totally eclipsed by their employer’s inability to book them as anything more than enhancement talent. It’s unfortunate, since all three men look the part of successful wrestlers and can deliver strong performances in-ring. Their lackluster won-loss records could be used to their storyline advantage. Wheeler Yuta was similarly ho-hum before BCC adopted him. Put Daivari, Woods and Nese under Yuta’s authority and air a series of hazing vignettes…or place them under Danielson’s supervision and audiences can see him build their characters like Stu Hart in his dungeon. Collectively under Danielson’s sadistic tutelage, they could then mount a credible challenge to The House of Black’s trios titles before embarking on their own programs as bigger individual threats. In recent years stables have explored the idea of offshoots or groups-within-groups. The Elite started as a Bullet Club splinter. At one point the Brood of Edge, Christian and Gangrel were absorbed into the Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness. While that alliance was short-lived, long-term it sure worked for the Brood’s Canadian contingent. And if they don’t work out, it’s worth remembering that the Mean Street Posse figured into Vince McMahon’s Corporate Ministry, too.
Taken together it’s clear that a year later, BCC is still generating it’s share of buzz. Moving forward it has an opportunity to cement itself as a cornerstone of AEW broadcasts and serve as a launching pad for the next generation of featured performers. The beauty of BCC in its current flawed form is that it looks to the future, rather than serving like so many stables, as a protection racket for a single member like Ric Flair in the Four Horsemen on Triple H in Evolution or the non-Shawn versions of Degeneration-X. of course, plans change frequently in pro wrestling and the whole stable could fall apart. But where’s the fun in that?