AEW’s money mark might be their secret weapon
For the dozens (and dozens!) of Around the Loop followers out there, you know how much I love my wrestling podcasts. Truthfully, if I could no longer watch wrasslin’ on TV, I would be pretty content to just absorb hours and hours of content by way of my headphones. Part of my continued interest in the genre comes from my fascination with the people and personalities that make up the world of pro wrestling. Podcasts are a big, wide open window into their lives. Although Colt Cabana is often viewed as the pioneer of this ever-growing market, one guy that deserves a lot of credit for raising the profile of pro wrasslin’ pods is none other than the Texas Rattlesnake himself, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
For those that haven’t kept tabs on the toughest S.O.B. in the world, Austin has been doing just fine for himself since he hung up his boots and walked off into the sunset in 2003, including his work as a podcaster. Austin is a surprisingly well researched and engaging interviewer. His recent return to work featured an excellent interview with AEW’s Tony Khan.
This is the second full-length interview I have listened to featuring Khan, the first was with Chris Jericho on his Talk is Jericho pod. In both cases, Khan comes off as really, really likable. He drops wrestling facts, old school references and exact show details with the affection of someone that really loves wrestling. He has great stories about tape trading, going to see ECW live, and how his love of wrestling has grown and evolved over his entire life.
He is also totally star struck by Steve Austin. It’s exactly the way I think any of us would feel next to the biggest star in the history of the business.
His conversation with Austin highlights how well thought out this whole AEW thing is on his end, that there is a plan. Most importantly to me, he cares about the wrestlers and their safety. He wants to keep them off the road. He wanted confirmation that Pentagon’s package piledriver could be done safely. He is going to allow workers, such as Dr. Britt Baker, to continue to follow their other interests while under contract. He also puts his roster and the Double or Nothing event over like crazy. Khan comes off as a fanboy with deep pockets and a mind for numbers, what I think we would all like to believe we would be if we were in his shoes.
He seems like the wrestling owner that you could have a beer with.
Now, contrast that with the neverending tide of stories about Vincent “Goddamit, pal” McMahon. Stories of McMahon paint him as a maniacal genius prone to last minute changes, fits of anger, and bizarre personality quirks (“sleep is the enemy, pal”). Though he is respected by most, he is also feared by all.
Nobody can argue that Vince hasn’t done more for the wrestling business than anyone in history, but he is also the guy most fans associate with the burial of their favorite wrestler in the mid-card. The guy that doesn’t get tag team wrestling and loves fart jokes. And, most to the point right now, the guy taking that Saudi money and giving us crap like Taker vs Goldberg. Following the Jon Moxley interview, most of our worst assumptions about Vince have been corroborated, if not confirmed. He loves corny humor, kills ideas on the fly, and is somewhat isolated atop his mountain of FOX deal money.
He also doesn’t interview well. Who can forget, “What is a Cesaro?” from a previous Austin pod where Vince defended his choice to not push one of the most talented wrestlers in the world, the Swiss Superman Cesaro. We have also seen him highlighted by John Oliver for his unwillingness to provide health care for wrestlers and yelling at journalist that question him about it.
Then you have Tony Khan working press scrums after an event.
In the world of wrestling, it can be very difficult to sort out the shoots from the works, but whichever the presentation of Tony Khan is, and I firmly believe his presentation is part of the companies gimmick, it works for me. I want to believe that the guy paying wrestlers actually cares about them. I want to believe that a wrestling promoter is also a wrestling fan. In a nutshell, I want to believe in Tony Khan and AEW and, as of the printing of this article, I do.
NXT UK: Imperium have matching tracksuits and it is everything
This week on my favorite sports entertainment sub-brand, UK Champion WALTER and his newly minted heel faction, Imperium appeared in front of the live crowd at Download Fest. The four were sporting matching black and white warm-up suits complete with names, countries of origin, and the group’s tag line, “This mat is sacred,” stitched on the back. They were a little overwhelmed by the fantastically vocal crowd, but they made a clear case for their purpose: wrestling is their sport and they want to restore dignity to it… even though they cheated to win their last two matches. Like any great villain, they have a real point, but are going about it for the wrong reasons and by the wrong methods. It’s simple, clear, and effective booking. They have gone over on the nuclear heat over babyfaces of British Strong Style twice now. I fully expect WALTER to slap the chest off of his next challenger, Travis Banks. They look tough, they act tough, and they win. So, when someone finally goes over on them, it will mean something. Imagine that?
While discussing NXT UK, I would be remiss in not mentioning the big, bad boys of Gallus. Man, those guys look like grizzly bears out there. This week they faced The Hunt, animal-themed grapplers Wild Boar and Primate, in a physical contest that saw them go over and proceed with a post-match beat down. This led to the arrival of “Bomber” Dave Mastiff, possibly the most fun big man in the division. The three heels took a powder, Dave stood ready to fight, the program moves on. My fingers are crossed for a six-man tag between the big Scots of Gallus and The Hunt with Bomber Dave at their side. The ring might not survive the experience, but I’m 100 percent here for it.
The NXT UK women’s division also saw some great action with an over the top battle royal to determine a new number one contender. I have mentioned this before, but the UK women’s division is as compelling a group of workers as on any brand anywhere. Unique, diverse characters, none of whom would have lasted a minute in the Divas era, but all of which can work. Villainous Kay Lee Ray walked away the winner after pulling the old sneak back in at the last minute move to toss out plucky youngster, Xia Brookside. The match saw the first physicality between Piper Niven and Rhea Ripley and also showcased the ridiculous size and strength of Jazzy Gabert.
Lastly, I want to put over the UK fans. With a few exceptions, the crowds that come out to UK shows are loud, passionate, and there to be a part of the experience. No hijacking, no CM Punk chants, just genuine joy at the experience of attending a live wrestling show. Their chants and cheers make watching each week that much more enjoyable.
Oh, and Kassius Ohno. That man is a treasure and clearly having the time of his life. His work over in NXT UK is some of the best stuff in wrestling right now.
‘Stomping Grounds’ probably
Buried underneath the good stuff this week are my thoughts on WWE Stomping Grounds.
It is a WWE event that will be shown on the WWE network featuring Baron Corbin in the main event.
That is all.
So, until the Hulkster stops hulking, I’ll see you marks around the loop.