The Alliance finally won
In a world that exists outside of all other forms of entertainment, both in terms of the product offered and the people involved, could there be a more uniquely Wrasslin’ announcement than that of Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman being brought in to steady the sinking ships that are WWE RAW and SmackDown Live? During the biggest time in the history of the business, Vince McMahon was pushed from two sides to evolve his product. From the right was the “realistic” money fuelled WCW, led by Bischoff and the money train that was Hollywood Hogan and the nWo. And, on his left, the frenetic violence of the “extreme” competition of Paul Heyman and ECW. There is no doubt that the industry would not be where it is today if McMahon had not had to face off against these two entities during the height of the Monday Night Wars. The alternate visions of what pro-wrestling could be forced McMahon to leave behind stale concepts, evolve his product and create the Attitude Era, the time most fans still associate with their favorite time ever in wrestling.
And now those two men will sit at Vince’s sides as he prepares for one last fight, this time with upstart AEW and the deep, deep pockets of the Khan family.
The question I have, and the one that only time will provide an answer to, is: are two guys that contributed to a boom twenty years ago the best choice to go head up with the young minds and “cool” factor of The Young Bucks, Cody, and their cast of characters?
I really don’t know. The IWC (internet wrestling community), for all its wisdom, has clamoured for a change in the WWE product for some time now. And, as has been the case since it ended, many fans feel that a return to the Attitude Era style of TV-14 programming is the solution to all that ails the WWE main roster. That same portion of the fan base sees the appointment of these two men as an indication that WWE finally agrees with them and that we will all be flipping the bird and encouraging people to “suck it” before you know it.
I really hope not because, and this is going to hurt, the Attitude Era wasn’t what we all remember it to be. Yes, it was the time that produced the two biggest stars the industry would ever create: Steve Austin and The Rock. Yes, the nWo was a game-changing concept that still resonates with fans. And, yes, edgier programming did draw eyes and keep you guessing. However, most of the extra stuff was crap, just like now. Think back to your favorite Oddities match, or the best Mideon promo you can remember. Recall fondly a time when octogenarians were powerbombed through tables. Reflect wistfully upon the quality programming that was Meat and PMS (Pretty Mean Sisters) or Harry Beaver Cleavage and his “mom.” Think longingly of classic matches featuring grapplers such as Disco Inferno, Van Hammer, Balls Mahoney, Buff Bagwell, and Lex Luger. Or, remember quality angles such as Big Boss Man feeding Al Snow his own dog Pepper.
Can’t do it, can you?
Things that we loved at the time when we were most passionate about them, during times in our own lives when we were growing and finding our place in the world like our early twenties, teens, or childhood, always have an extra sheen on them. How many of us would say our favourite album or movie of all time came out during this period? Dr. Dre’s 2001 is the best rap record of all time. Just ask me. However, that same album is full of language and concepts that, when I hear them today, make me cringe at who the person was that thought “Explosive” was an acceptable song to play out loud in civilised company. I’m not saying that this diminishes the value of these things we love. If anything, it adds to it. But trying to replicate those feelings just isn’t going to happen no matter what WWE puts on TV or the now 50-year-old Dr. Dre spits on a track.
They grew up and so did we.
It is absolutely essential to me as a viewer and, based on recent attendance numbers and ratings, to the WWE as a company that they once again take a good hard look at the product and hit that refresh button. The company that has now become almost too big to fail must change with the times and offer up something that appeals to fans that are being offered more alternatives than ever before. What form that takes has yet to be seen, but each and every one of us that loves wrestling wants to see it happen. I want to want to watch three hours of RAW. I want to look forward to PPV main events. I want to turn on SmackDown Live and take a relaxed exhale rather than sigh deeply as Shane McMahon once again shuffles down the ramp. I want to love what WWE is doing for me as a wrestling fan and I hope Bischoff and Heyman are the guys to make it happen.
What I do know, for absolutely sure, is that resurrecting the era of unprotected chair shots, bra and panties matches, faked miscarriage storylines, guys in dresses, necrophilia, and funeral crashing is not the way to bring me back as a lapsed fan. The appeal of AEW is that it is the new, cool kid on the block that “gets it”. Are two guys in their sixties the answer? Or, is Vince McMahon locking up creative minds the same way he is locking up talent in order to limit the options AEW has? They got Jericho, JR, and Moxley; what could a Heyman or Bischoff do for AEW? We won’t know… at least for now.
AEW makes the wrong kind of headlines
I skipped this past weekend’s Fyter Fest event from AEW. As it turns out, paying for something (Double or Nothing) is easier for me to wrap my head around than finding and working a new app and watching one for free. Well, that and the card didn’t really do anything for me. What this meant was that the first things I heard about this event were that they had an extreme match between Jon Moxley and Joey Janella that featured thumbtacks, barbed wire, and other such garbage, and that Cody had taken an unprotected chair shot to the head causing him to need 12 staples. These are not the things I want to see as a prospective fan. Full stop.
I get that there is a market for deathmatch style brutality, but I am really disappointed to see that AEW will be attempting even in a small way to cater to it. I know that workers make their own choices about what they do to themselves during the course of a match and I respect them for it. No other performers in the world put themselves at the kind of risk pro wrestlers do and it is a shame to see this new talent-forward company allow their performers to push this particular envelope with the eyes of the wrestling world on them. Wrestling fans know what head injuries and concussions have cost us: lives. More lives than I care to count here in this column. Brain injury stemming from repeated blows to the head have led us to tragedies unheard of in other industries. WWE, to their credit, has been a leader in removing moves like piledrivers and chair shots to the head from all of their programming. They also take the well-being of any performer diagnosed with a concussion very, very seriously. Just ask Daniel Bryan, who is checked for symptoms after every single match.
And then, Cody takes a chair to the head on a PPV.
AEW has come out since and pulled back the curtain, revealing that the chair was “gimmicked” to lessen damage and maximize sound. The resulting injury was a botch (wrestling term for a mistake). Tony Khan has stated that hardcore matches will not be a part of their TV and that the level of violence seen at this event would be reserved only for very special PPV occasions, all of which is great. For them. What about the indie dumbass that saw how excited the crowd was to watch Janella get thumbtacks stuck in his feet? What about the young workers trying to make a name for themselves, who don’t have the benefit of a gimmicked chair, that decide they want to follow in Cody’s footsteps?
Every time a new risk is taken by a wrestler on a large stage, it opens the door for other talents to try it, too. While I don’t think this event is an indictment of AEW or its core principals, I do think that the last thing people should be talking about after one of their events is how one of their top guys took a chair to the head while the other was dropping a shoeless dude into thumbtacks.
Wrestling is brutal, but the degrees of that brutality must be measured carefully by everyone involved. The last thing wrestling needs is another extreme arms race to see who will jump off the highest thing into the burning thing wrapped in barbed wire.
Workrate, match quality, innovative characters. That is the way of wrestling’s future. Let’s leave all that other bullshit hung up next to Cactus Jack’s working boots.
NXT UK at Download
Want to know what a hot wrestling crowd looks like? Go back and watch the three weeks of NXT UK TV taped at Download Fest. Damn, those guys get it. Creative chants, character-appropriate responses, and volume all made that tent full of people seem like an arena stuffed to the gills with fans. “WALTER’s bitches” is a level of chanting shade only a crowd of UK fans can cook up. “You’re all wankers” is a close second.
This week’s TV saw the most over guys in wrestling, Moustache Mountain, get a rematch for the NXT UK Tag Titles against The Grrrrrizzled Young Veterans. The match was stellar, with chops and selling from Trent Seven and fire from his partner, Tyler Bate, complimented perfectly by tag wrestling from the champs. The match ended with Imperium coming to the ring, jumping the Big Strong Bois and handcuffing Trent Seven to the ring while WALTER brutalized Bate on the outside with powerbombs to the apron and ring post.
It was high drama, classic heel stuff. Imperium, decked out in their matching tracksuits, standing tall over a broken Bate with Seven calling his partners name helplessly from the inside of the ring. The babyfaces lost their chance, the heels kicked ass, and Bruiserweight Pete Dunne was nowhere to be seen to make the save. The villains won’t get their comeuppance til another day. Classic wrasslin’ stuff and I’m here for every minute of it.
That’s it for me this week. Until Vince goes full 98 and Vince Russo is booking Bray Wyatt in Ramblin’ Rabbit on a pole matches, I’ll see you marks around the loop.