Hook, AEW’s Meme Incarnate, strutted to the ring on Friday evening’s taped edition of AEW Rampage with a swagger in his step and a grimace on his face. Taz rose from his seat at the announce table and clapped, then provided a heartwarming soundtrack for his son’s debut match.
“He’s been grappling his whole life as a player of Judo and Jiu Jitsu,” Taz said, proudly, as Hook began his beatdown of Fuego del Sol. After three minutes, twenty seconds, Fuego tapped out, with Hook’s legs wrapped around his waist and arms around his neck. That was not the Tazmission, Taz declared, but something new: Redrum. Hook’s hometown Long Island crowd swooned as Action’s Bronson “The Chairman’s Intent” blared through the UBS Arena.
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The debut lit up Wrestling Twitter, and for good reason: The 22-year-old Hook moved exceptionally well in the ring, blending smooth takedowns and submissions with the intensity that helped his father become an ECW legend.
There was something else, too: The way he turned his back on Sol during the pre-match introductions; the nonchalance with which he chewed gum from bell-to-bell; his reluctance to let referee Bryce Remsburg raise his hand in victory. It was the kind of detachment and carelessness that’s made Hook such a curiosity – and ironic cult hero – among wrestling fans since he first appeared on TV about a year ago.
On Friday night, wrestling’s favorite meme came to life.
Punk fears Hook
Since being introduced to the AEW audience on the Nov. 25, 2020 Dynamite, Hook had not done much of substance before his debut match. Often dressed in a white wife beater or a black hoodie, Hook functioned as a prop for Team Taz, appearing in promos and at ringside for stablemates Powerhouse Hobbs, Ricky Starks and, formerly, Brian Cage.
Loath to speak, Hook played a diligent sidekick, providing interference and occasional stomps and punches. He was mostly an afterthought until Team Taz entered a feud with CM Punk. On the Sept. 8 Dynamite, Punk dared Taz to “send” members of his group:
“Send me Hobbs.”
That was all the internet needed. A Twitter account – @SendHook– was created, with the two-second clip of Punk calling out Taz’s son tweeted daily. On more than one Dynamite, cameras caughts fans with signs that read: ‘Punk fears Hook.’ Fans on Twitter and Reddit fantasy booked Hook, who had yet to wrestle a single match, into AEW’s main event scene.
The phenomenon was as much the product of a smarky postmodern audience’s sense of irony as it was an authentic need for levity. AEW supporters have hardly had a moment to exhale in recent months, between the debuts of Punk, Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson, and Hangman Page’s dethroning of Kenny Omega for the AEW World Championship. Dynamite produces no shortage of dopamine. Wrestling fans, however, also need moments of rest, and in AEW conditions were ripe for a diversion.
So AEW sent Hook, making sure to slowly carve out more of a role for the new fan-favorite without sacrificing what made him special. On Nov. 13, in his most significant character layering to date, Hook appeared on Rampage with a bag of potato chips, offering a handful to Team Taz recruit Dante Martin. Martin let the bag hang, but 11 days later, when Martin joined up with the bad guys, apparently turning his back on mentor Lio Rush, Hook once more offered chips. Martin obliged, and the crowd popped.
Martin, of course, swerved the group, eliminating Starks from the Dynamite Dozen Battle Royal on Dec. 8, angering Taz and prompting him to unleash his “secret weapon.”
“The world is about to find out,” Taz said later that night, in announcing his son’s forthcoming debut, “that Hook is all that, and a bag of chips.”
More than a meme
Hook’s debut, to be sure, moved the needle because of how skilled he looked in the ring. But it wouldn’t have been as impactful had it not been for the way in which he’d been presented the past year.
AEW has been accused of nepotism since its onset, and to many viewers, Hook fell into that same bucket: What was he doing on TV? Much of the amusement around Hook stemmed from his perceived lack of ability. Then, on Friday, Hook showed he’s more than a meme, one Judo throw at a time. He’s not a prop but a legitimate part of AEW’s future. In an interview with Pitchfork, AEW CEO Tony Khan said the company’s licensing of the Bronson song for Hook’s entrance represents “an investment in the presentation of a very important young wrestler.”
AEW can, and probably will, take things slow with Hook, but some are letting themselves dream. In the aftermath of his debut, Hook’s biggest supporters were fantasizing about future opponents, this time with more sincerity than humor. Perhaps one day, they hypothesized, Taz will heed Punk’s request – and send him Hook.