I don’t know about all of you, but I friggin’ love Wednesday night wrestling.
Now, to be fair, I live in Canada where there is no live broadcast option for NXT so I don’t actually watch it until Thursday on the WWE Network. But looking at the two products that air on Wednesday nights, I have to say that I am as excited to be a fan as I have been in a long time.
While I fully understand the reasons for framing this thing as a “wrestling war” from the point of view of a website or podcast looking for clicks, I would like to submit that we fans do not have to view it this way at all. In fact, it probably would be better for all of us if we didn’t.
You see, like any veteran of a war, I remember what it was to live through the Monday Night Wars. I also know what it gave us: twenty years of a WWE stranglehold on the professional wrestling landscape. This has been good in a lot of ways but it has also narrowed the view of what a wrestling show can be, what a wrestler can look like, and has contributed to the absolutely abysmal state of today’s WWE Creative.
Nitro vs RAW provided some of my all-time favourite wrestling memories, like the DX invasion and “Crow” Sting fending off the entire nWo with a baseball bat. However, when the dust settled, WWE was left to redefine what wrestling is and browbeat fans into accepting whatever it is that they gave them. That is not to say there hasn’t been some great stuff over the past two decades, but it is impossible to deny that over the last few years in particular things have gotten pretty stale.
It is from this domination, though, that we got the breath of fresh air that is NXT. Yes, I know, Impact and ROH and New Japan and MLW… but NXT was what brought me back into the bear hug-like embrace of pro wrestling fandom.
And now, it is because of the air of discontent and the desire for something new that we have the first real, money-backed, alternative to WWE since the fall of WCW in All Elite Wrestling.
Now, with both of these shows airing at the same time on the same night, fans are drawing battle lines. Podcasts are declaring weekly winners. Ratings are being dissected by the quarter-hour. The sometimes rampant toxicity of the wrestling fanbase is exposed via social media. An “us versus them” mentality of fans declaring one show “trash” and the other set of fans “marks” is only a short trip down the hashtag away and my question is: why? Why are we doing anything but celebrating this moment in our love of wrestling?
Watch one live, PVR the other and watch it the next day. Alternate each week or pick your favorite, but there is no reason at all to make this an all or nothing battle between two promotions. To root for the success of AEW is to root for the success of NXT, because one will drive the other to create a better product FOR US. We have already seen the way that NXT came out swinging its first head to head week with an opening title match between Matt Riddle and Adam Cole. We have seen AEW stack four of their top guys into a tag match with Jon Moxley and Pac taking on Kenny Omega and Adam Page. We’ve had great surprises with the return of Finn Balor and Tomasso Ciampa going up against the formation of Chris Jericho’s “Inner Circle” stable. It’s all, if I can borrow a line from Vince, “such good shit!”
Why choose when you can have both? I absolutely understand losing interest in the WWE main roster. In fact, I canceled the channel that carries RAW and SmackDown up here for that very reason. But I certainly don’t want those shows or the people that enjoy them to “lose” anything. If anything, I would love to hear that RAW was done with cuckolding and Seth Rollins matches and that SmackDown had rehabilitated the Fiend. I don’t have to watch, but the health of the business starts with WWE, so wishing anything less than success for them goes against my own interests.
I guess what I’m driving at is this: I love wrestling. Full stop. And right now is the most excited I have been as a fan in a long time. Let’s all enjoy the ride together.
A short note on size in wrestling
This week saw two size-related controversies emerge from WWE and AEW.
On the WWE side of things, former Olympian Chad Gable, after weeks of being put down for his height, was booked to embrace his disadvantage and re-name himself Shorty G. First, on its face, this is a terrible idea. Nobody named “shorty” anything will ever main event WrestleMania and it instantly draws attention to all the other workers on the roster, of which there are many, that line up sizewise with Gable. Second, and this is somewhat a continuation of my first point: the guy is 5’8″. He’s not that short. No, he’s not Braun Strowman or Baron Corbin, but he’s about eye level with Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, and Cedric Alexander and he’s a good head taller than half the roster down in NXT. It’s a dumb gimmick that serves only to pop Vince in the back and make a compelling reason to not cheer for an otherwise amazing talent.
On the AEW side of things, an injury to Luchasaurus caused Jungle Boy Jack Perry to face the Lucha Bros with Marko Stunt as his tag team partner in the opening round of their tag team championship tournament. Now, I won’t go full Cornette here, although his podcast rant on this subject is both hilarious and accurate, but I am absolutely one of the people that would much rather Stunt was a mascot than a worker. The guys is tiny, which isn’t bad in itself, but at his height with nothing in the way of muscles, it is very difficult to take him seriously as a competitor or to not cringe every time he takes a bump.
The reason I group these two stories together is to point out the absurdity of the Gable angle and also to highlight my earlier suggestion that we fans simply sit back and enjoy the moment we are in.
I don’t like Stunt in the ring. I don’t want to see him work. But, guess what? I don’t have to. I can skip over his match and move on without feeling offended or upset about it. People are into him, even if I’m not one of them, and as Lé Champion Chris Jericho said on the matter: “over is over”.
Cool. Stunt is over, so give the people what they want.
Shorty G, on the other hand, will never be over as he has already had his hands tied behind his back with a gimmick that exists in a way only WWE could imagine it: a person is bullied for their appearance and as a solution, they take what they are bullied for and brand themselves with it. Anyone that has ever been picked on for anything will tell you that the last way they would identify themselves is with the words of those that are cruel to them. It’s dumb, pointless and especially ridiculous as an angle in the day and age when a guy Stunt’s size is just a channel flip away getting cheered to the rafters.
NXT UK still rules
Before I wrap, I feel like I need to give a shout out to the short but sweet title reign of former NXT UK tag team champions Mark Andrews and “Flash” Morgan Webster. Their title win at TakeOver: Cardiff is my favourite match this year, and maybe one of my all-time biggest, most embarrassing, alone in the house pops, so watching them go down in defeat this week to Gallus was tough to watch. That said, and while on the subject of size in wrestling, those two guys were about half the size of their opponents and still brought me right into their work and made me believe that they had a chance against the big, manly Scots, Wolfgang and Mark Coffey.
This match, like everything on the UK brand, was top shelf wrestling with babyfaces, heels, believable work and well-defined characters.
I will keep plugging UK here in this column, so if you aren’t already into it, it is well worth adding an hour to your wrestling schedule to check it out every Thursday on the WWE Network before NXT proper. Take an hour away from RAW… I promise you won’t miss it.
That’s it for me this week. So until S.C.U. finally finds a town they actually like, I’ll see you marks around the loop.