I had a really great mark-out moment last night.
My good friend and Biff Bam Pop! founder, Andy Burns, sent me a message to say that Chris Jericho had retweeted my piece on his position with upstart pro wrestling promotion, All Elite Wrestling.
Did he read it? I don’t know. I hope so, I put him over pretty good, but mostly I’m just grateful as his retweet gave me the rub and, all of a sudden, it’s the most viewed thing I’ve ever written. It’s a moment for me and I’m grateful for it.
Since wrestling fans are a vocal bunch, the comments section on Jericho’s retweet started to fill up a bit and I broke Twitter rule number one and decided to read them.
Lucky for me, nobody called me names or said anything nasty about my work, but there was a strange recurring theme that I also caught across other social media: that the launch of AEW is the start of a new wrestling war and we all need to choose sides.
Geez, guys… I thought we were all fans of this business.
Saying that you are excited AEW is here because it will finally mean the death of WWE is like saying you only watch AHL hockey in the hopes that one day the NHL collapses and goes out of business. It doesn’t make sense and it would be devastating for the people you claim to be supporting: the guys that work there.
Ignore for a moment the name brand appeal of WWE. Ignore the fact that it is a multi-billion dollar company that is going into its 35th WrestleMania season. Ignore the fact that they employ hundreds, probably thousands of people in production, marketing, costuming and security. Ignore all of that and you are still left with the fact that WWE employs more professional wrestlers (or sports entertainers if you will) than any other company in the world. That means that, like him or hate him, the house that Vince McMahon built is the beating heart of the industry. WrestleMania weekend is a thing because WrestleMania is a thing. The industry needs WWE just like WWE needs the industry.
But that’s all pretty big picture stuff, maybe more than most fans consider. Which is totally fair. An average fan of, let’s say Finn Balor, just likes the guy’s entrance, loves when he does the demon thing, wishes they would put the belt on him, and wonders why he smiles all the damn time. Plus, because we are all “smart” marks now, they have really strong opinions on why Vince isn’t pushing him and how crap booking is ruining his career. Again, fair. We all get opinions. Heck, I bet Finn Balor wishes Finn Balor was booked better and got to be champion. I bet he gets frustrated with smiling and story lines that go nowhere sometimes. But you know what I bet he’s not mad about? A solid, steady pay cheque. I bet he never minds action figure and video game royalties. I bet that, even if he has misgivings about the way the WWE network works as far as compensating its performers, he isn’t mad that his body of work in that company will exist FOREVER. Whatever else he does, he will always have the WWE rub and that’s worth money.
What I am working at saying, is that wrestling fans should not root for wrestling to fail. Period.
I know, Monday Night War vets like me were conditioned to believe that pro wrestling is just that: a war. We have been taught that rival promotions are the enemy, that shots need to be fired, results need to be given away, and belts need to be dropped in the trash. We were fans during the hottest era of the business. This is what we were shown and it can be really hard to unlearn the lessons you learn in your formative years about the world.
But, if the only lesson we took from the wars is that they were fought, we miss another really important thing: what came after.
When ECW and WCW folded, Vince bought ALL of it. He gave the likes of Chuck Palumbo and Little Guido jobs. He put ECW and WCW events on his network. He let Hogan, Hall, and Nash come home. Yes, the war was real, but the armistice that followed was also real.
So what does that mean for today’s wrestling landscape?
Well, the first thing that Mr. McMahon himself would tell you is: WWE isn’t wrasslin’: It’s sports entertainment. This is worth noting when you look at Ring of Honour WRESTLING and Impact WRESTLING and New Japan WRESTLING and yes, All Elite WRESTLING. The other companies are setting themselves apart by defining themselves as what they are, not what they are not.
Does WWE still do pure wrestling? Of course they do. Watch the NXT brands if you don’t believe me. But they also do sketch comedy, talk shows, reality shows, movies, music and cartoons with Scooby-Doo where the Undertaker drives a monster truck shaped like a sandwich. None of the other companies are doing this stuff and I can’t imagine it would occur to them to try.
It’s not apples and oranges. But it’s definitely Honeycrisps and Granny Smiths.
Second, having multiple, solvent places to work with audiences of fans is good for everybody. WWE needs other promotions for guys to cut their teeth in. Other promotions need WWE to scoop up their talent to make room for new names. If ROH paid WWE money, then Sami Zayn would still be eating package piledrivers in a goofy Luchador mask.
The industry also needs a leader. I can’t overstate how grateful I am, as a fan, to WWE for getting rid of things like blade jobs, piledrivers and unprotected chair shots to the head, saying nothing of their leaps and bounds improvement of the portrayal of women.
I want my kids to enjoy wrestling with me and as much as I loved watching Mankind matches at the time, seeing a human being bludgeoned a dozen times with a metal chair with his hands tied behind his back is not something I want to show my son. Similarly, my 19-year-old self loved seeing Lita pull off her top before hitting her moonsault, but father of an 11-year-old girl me would much rather show my daughter the strong, confident badasses that are Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair.
If the standard is raised, companies flying under it look bad by comparison. I’m not saying there isn’t room for sex and violence in wrestling. It is sexy people punching each other in shiny, skin tight underwear, after all, but a raised bar for safety and taste is a good thing.
The third and final point I will make on this topic is that having a variety of companies to choose from is good for one group most of all: us.
I don’t like Monday Night Raw. I watch it here and there, but the presentation, format and talent roster aren’t for me. So I don’t watch.
I don’t like Ring of Honour. I get that the guys work crazy, spot-filled matches, but I find the production values lacking and I think that the talents take unnecessary risks for low rewards. So I don’t watch.
I do like NXT. An hour a week, plus another for the UK brand on the side, is a healthy amount of time spent watching wrestling. I find the characters compelling and the matches are excellent. So I watch.
Will I like AEW? I don’t know. But, what I do know, is that I can watch OR not watch it and make up my mind. And, I can do that without vowing to never watch RAW, SmackDown, Impact or New Japan again. I mean… sometimes its just the right night for a little Lucha Underground on Netflix and I’m not giving that up for anything.
I don’t mean to be preachy or tell fans what to say or do. Again, we all get opinions. But, let’s not cheer for failure or wait eagerly for the collapse of an entity that supplies people with a chance to put food on their table.
Let’s be happy for success. Let’s cheer for our brand. Let’s be excited to see what happens next.
Let’s be what we say we are: fans of pro-wrestling.