From a sports perspective, Pittsburgh was put through the emotional ringer last week. It started off with the retirement of Mike Lange, the incomparable play-by-play man of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, and end-capped with the passing of the legendary Dominic DeNucci. Both men made their city proud in their respective professions which combined, had 100 years of work under their belts.
Sandwiched in between such somber moments for the town, Pittsburgh turned to “Brittsburgh” and fans were treated to a high stakes championship match that told the story of a seasoned vet getting the better of the best currently at their game. Such an occurrence won’t be the last time for the former, and the latter sure wasn’t the first time two Canadians made the Steel City surge with electricity. Pittsburgh and pro wrestling used to be synonymous with one another and AEW’s week-long tenure proved that it always has been.
Kenny Omega and Christian Cage kicked off the premiere episode of AEW Rampage with a lot to prove and damn, did they do it. The talk for weeks surrounding AEW has been the expectations set for when the promotion touches down in Chicago this week for Dynamite and Rampage. The pro wrestling return of CM Punk is rightfully creating a buzz and Christian, the current challenger for AEW World Title heard (and likely felt) every bit of that this past Wednesday. The live crowd at Pitt University’s Petersen Event Center was unaware of Cage vs. Kenny being official for All Out and once they did, “The Pete” shook with “CM Punk” and “Yes” chants. Christian, ever the veteran, turned those chants in his favor by using the Pittsburgh term “jagoff” and from then to Friday night, Cage became The Burgh’s adopted son.
The Montreal-born Mario Lemieux is one of (if not) hockey’s greatest players of all time. The NHL Hall of Famer and current owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins tends to be overshadowed by the greatness of one Wayne Gretzky, but 66’s numbers still stand up against 99. Lemieux first had to retire from the ice early in 1997 as he continued to battle back surgeries and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ultimately stifling his career numbers and opportunities for the Pens to hoist Lord Stanley. He returned three seasons later to play six more, welcoming in a new era for a Pens franchise that went through a lot of growing pains until hockey’s next big star Sidney Crosby skated at the side of Super Mario.
Omega, who is arguably the best in the game today, unsuccessfully defended the IMPACT World Title against Cage, a man who spent seven years with his boots hung up before returning to wrestle at the very beginning of 2021. If you look at the match from simply the surface, it told a terrific story of a cagey vet getting the better of the best going, but if you rip that ring canvas back, you saw two partners playing to each other’s strengths and building each other up. Lemieux once did that for Crosby as he not only shared the ice with the future face of the league, but literally his own home. And even through ownership, Lemieux was the man who saved the Pens from relocating to Kansas City and later helped to assemble three more Stanley Cup-winning seasons with Sid The Kid at center ice.
At this point, Crosby ain’t no kid and neither is Kenny, but Sidney has been the go-to guy for the NHL (Ironically, another Edmonton Oiler in Connor McDavid is the next heir to hockey’s throne) and all things considered, it’s Kenny leading the way for AEW as a whole. You may have to rifle through your 1998 issues of Pro Wrestling Illustrated to find an appropriate comparison when it comes to the legacy of Lemieux, but he and Christian both know what it’s like for their careers to be cut short to later get a second shot at the craft they excel at.
Pittsburgh has always been a hockey town and despite the mainstream perspective, a pro wrestling town all the way to its Sammartino roots. Cage, Omega and the homegrown Baker left Pittsburgh and fans hungry for the new alternative “smiling like a butcher’s dog.”
To those of you who told me Pittsburgh wasn’t a wrestling town… #AEW
— Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. (@RealBrittBaker) August 17, 2021
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