“WWE doesn’t own wrestling.” – Cody Rhodes at All In.
For most, if not all, of us that grew up in the post-territory days, the WWE (or WWF, depending on your age) is synonymous with wrestling. In fact, for any fans that choose not to dip their toes into the ocean of other promotions, WWE is wrestling. Sorry, sports entertainment. And, in all fairness, it sort of is. Ask eight to ten people what ROH or NJPW are and they will likely give you a blank stare. While I’m not in the blank stare category, despite my identifying as a wrestling fan, I don’t watch them either. I watch WWE and whatever it serves me up on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday night. So, am I a wrestling fan, or a WWE fan?
It’s sort of like being from Toronto and cheering for the Leafs when I followed the NHL: was I a hockey fan, or a Leafs fan?
I feel like this Monday’s RAW, featuring the yearly “Superstar Shake-Up” is the tipping point that is, once again, forcing me to ask myself that question. Do I love wrestling, or am I brand loyal to WWE because I have been following their product for the past 30 years of my life?
A couple of points to get out of the way before I dive in any further to this very serious personal crisis:
1. I don’t lump the NXT brands into the same boat as the main roster. It’s a different product and I love it, even if the same guy ultimately signs the checks.
2. I have tried to expand my wrestling palate before. I have watched matches from ROH, Impact, NJPW, and Lucha Underground and more. With the exception of LU, none of the products really connected with me. The production values, the commentary, the people getting dropped on their heads: nothing quite worked.
3. I’m not a “hate-watch” kind of guy. I watch stuff because I like it. Life is too short for Baron Corbin matches.
Okay, all that said, here is the problem: RAW this week was really bad. It was bad in a way that made me feel like my intelligence was being insulted by the people making it. Ricochet gets a “pew” sound effect to kick off his music? Lacey Evans, an actual badass Marine with a great NXT gimmick, is speaking in a ridiculous southern accent and her new thing is hats? Hanson and Rowe, the War Raiders, are now Erik and Ivar, The Viking Experience? I have better things to do than be mad about this. I really do.
Beyond these cosmetic problems was the underlying feeling that when I watch RAW, I am no longer watching a wrestling show. I am watching a live-action family variety show that happens to include wrestling. I know this has been the case for a while, but I became really aware of it this week and I didn’t like it.
NXT and its UK spinoff do provide an in-house cure for the main roster blues. But, there is always the lingering shadow of a main roster call-up hanging over the heads of the talents that I have come to follow and enjoy on the black and yellow brand. What will happen to Velveteen Dream, Johnny Gargano, and the Undisputed Era if they get the call to join the red or blue? It shouldn’t affect my enjoyment, but it kinda does.
I want an alternative.
As I mentioned before, I really don’t watch any wrestling that doesn’t appear under the WWE banner, so I am almost completely unfamiliar with everyone involved with AEW. I mean, I know who Cody and the Young Bucks are, but I can’t say I am a fan. However, there are two guys working there that I am familiar with: Chris Jericho and Jim Ross.
I’ve spent some time on the importance of Chris Jericho as a get for AEW in this column before. It is worth stating again that Y2J joining their roster is a big deal. However, the even bigger deal could be the addition of Mr. “Good God almighty!” himself, Good Ol’ JR.
For any wrestling fan that came up during the Monday Night Wars/Attitude Era, Jim Ross is the voice of wrestling. His passion and storytelling perfectly captured the rise of Steve Austin, the villainy of Mr. McMahon, the irreverence of D-Generation X, and, of course, the death-defying Hell in a Cell dive of Mick Foley.
But beyond that legendary voice, Ross’s most indelible contribution to the history of the WWE is his time spent as head of talent relations. Ross is personally responsible for building much of the Attitude Era roster, notably Foley himself and some guy by the name of Dwayne Johnson that went on to do some things. Credit Ross for the OVW class that included Randy Orton, Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Brock Lesnar, and John Cena. That was arguably the greatest assembly of talent ever, anywhere.
Ross is also a student of the game. He came up in the wrestling territory days with Cowboy Bill Watts and spent time in WCW. He has never given up on his love of pro wrestling, even as the powers that be in WWE moved away from him as the voice of their product.
Though Ross himself describes his age as the “back nine of life,” he has stayed very active with a podcast, touring show, an autobiography, and a stint doing voiceovers for New Japan. He may not be the man he was 20 years ago, but he can still play-by-play circles around everyone not named Mauro Ranallo working in the business today.
In short, he is one of the great wrestling minds of all time and AEW got him because WWE didn’t want to use him.
What exactly his role will be has yet to be fully revealed. Is he up for weekly commentary duties? Will he have a say in booking and talent relations? We know for certain that he has a heartfelt connection with AEW executive/talent Cody, based on a long-lasting friendship with his father, the late American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. And we know that he and Chris Jericho have a strong bond of mutual respect. Really, Ross is well liked and respected by most folks in the business, young and old, so his presence in AEW should be most welcome in whatever capacity.
But those are just two names. What about the rest of the roster and presentation?
That still has to be seen, but the prospect of seeing it has me excited. There is real money behind AEW, billionaire money. There is also a groundswell of wrestling fans, like myself, that are hungry to be treated like we can remember things that happened a week ago. Fans that want to believe in wrestling and not constantly be reminded that what we are watching is just sports-entertainment. Fans that, dare I say, want to see wrestling treated more like a “real” sport and less like a TV program that exists to sell t-shirts, video games, and action figures.
Look, the “gaga” of wrestling will always be there. I don’t know that Joey Ryan and his penis druids are any more up my alley than the B-Team and whatever the hell that puppet thing is, but at least it’s new. There isn’t a built-in 30-plus year relationship, full of ups and downs, lingering over the show like there is for me with WWE. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But, right now, I am as ready as I have been in years to try something new.
I don’t like feeling like the fan that complains about everything. The kind that knows everything about the business and can’t simply sit back and enjoy the show. However, watching this week’s RAW, with multiple commercial breaks inserted into every single match, made me feel like the kind of fan I don’t like. I watch wrestling to shut my brain off a little and believe in the stories that these musclebound men and women in tights tell in the ring. I watch wrestling because I love it and right now, RAW is making that really, really hard.
Like I said off the top: I want an alternative and, if nothing else, AEW will be that.
Til next time, I’ll see you marks around the loop.