It's been an extremely rough year for this professional wrestling fan. To say that I've closely followed this medium of entertainment that I've loved since childhood would be an outright lie. In fact, it's a stretch to even say I've at times
Now, much of that is due to the WWE's terribleness (more on that in another post, for another time), and of course, the moving of many wrestling options away from my cable provider or from the capturing capability of my DVR. Hello, wrestling in 2019 - live streaming rules the day!
Nonetheless, an interesting shift in pro wrestling has taken place this year with the start of All Elite Wrestling (AEW), and the entire pro wrestling scene feels like it has been dumped on it's head...no, more like thrown off the top rope to the outside, and through a table - leaving fans to pick up the pieces that THEY want. It's been VERY interesting to see unfold. Yet, very enjoyable.
Cue your inner Vince McMahon voice and one of his many famous lines, "It's time to shake things up again!" This time, it's for real, and AEW's presence is leading the charge for this fan.
Following it's debut on TNT - and yes, the tremendous amount of hype and praise it had coming into the October debut - I, like every wrestling fan, was highly intrigued. In fact, my viewpoint of the product (and culture) was that of a casual - gasp, imagine that? I never once viewed Double or Nothing, or All In, or engaged in anything The Elite group has done prior to the TNT debut. This also includes their highly praised You Tube videos.
I merely viewed the show that documented the rise of the company the week before, and have been watching the weekly Dynamite show ever since it has debuted. Before pondering thoughts on the company for this very post, I wanted to give the company a few shows to express its direction as well as plant a flag on what fans can expect from the product. As we head into 2020, here are some quick thoughts on AEW:
PUMP THE BRAKES
I know, some start to a review. However, it is fitting, no?
Wrestling fans have long been known to jump to dangerous conclusions on any development within pro wrestling. As a collective fan base, any change within the landscape or spectrum of the industry often illicit discussions, thoughts, and emotions that mirror the lunacy of a Jeff Hardy high spot.
In being completely transparent, I feel that much of the hype carried into AEW's first show was not just fan interest, but that of dire hope that AEW would provide competition for the WWE. It's part of the responsibility that crushed TNA (of course, now Impact Wrestling) back in its hey day of needing to be a "competitor" clothed in the description of "alternative" to carry the torch for the desperate outlaw wrestling fan.
I'm not saying AEW is not a good product, it very much is. However, I do think in this budding era, it's time for us pro wrestling fans to leave behind archaic fandom norms and expectations we still carry as scars from the Monday Night Wars - ratings, fan boyhood, company acronym chanting, and oh yes, the complete negativity of bashing companies of fan non-interest.
There is plenty of wrestling out there. Pick what you enjoy. Not what we hope will manifest into a possible re-creation of a great era from the past.
ENERGY AND EXCITEMENT
With the above stated, the energy of the fan base who attend AEW shows very much comes across on TV. Again, as a causal viewer, the shows don't feel and sound like a fan base interested in checking out a new product. It feels and sounds like an interested and targeted fan base engaged in a product that they are genuinely interested in. And that's fantastic. Quite frankly, it's very refreshing.
Which leads me into another point...
I WANNA BE THERE
Some of the mistakes made in the past years by many companies attempting to find their niche in pro wrestling - or at the very least, carve out something unique - is indeed the production. No one can compete with the WWE in this area. Not even professional sports. The Sports Business Journal, a publication I read often for my career, agreed with this.
However, the biggest "feels" from the presentation of AEW is the fact that if comes through the television as an event that is being televised, and not a television show being produced in front of a live crowd. And that in itself, is a big difference. So much so, that it lends to the authentic energy that comes across the screen. I want to attend an AEW show.
Wrestling has been over produced for a very long time now (mainly the WWE). The scale back is oddly refreshing.
GOOD GAWWWWD ALMIGHTY!!!!
In preparation for writing this post, I've browsed a few opinion pieces on AWE and came across the recent discussion regarding Jim Ross' performance thus far in AEW. As a long time fan of Ross' work and a person who occasionally invokes JR impressions and famous calls into routine daily life situations - I know, it's sad - I'm actually in agreement with the let down.
The announcing team certainly on paper looks like a perfect collection of talent, known names, and connection to historical Turner-Wrestling broadcasts. However, thus far, the team has yet to truly find a groove that works - at least from this point of a view. Though, that could change, as most new teams in any form of communication takes long periods of time to gel.
Regardless, I too have fallen victim to what I discussed earlier, and expected - more so, hoped - to hear that JR of old screaming at the top of his lungs and reigniting moments deep down inside of my wrestling fandom. It very much could be so, as JR is still very much a good call. However, Stone Cold ain't driving some random vehicle down that aisle on Wednesdays.
At some point, I do believe we'll get that emotionally invested JR back.
However, it is VERY obvious that Ross is not a fan of the style of wrestling he's calling, a style he's known to be very critical of. That very much comes through with his remarks. And to be honest, I don't blame him.
MODERN ERA PRO WRESTLING
AEW epitomizes everything that pro wrestling has become in the year 2019. It is why it is ,where it is. It has a coolness factor throughout the internet, it has a rebellious counter-culture foundation, and of course, it carries the in-ring style that is popular today.
I'll just grab a seat at this point of the post and prepare my "get off-my-lawn" paragraph here:
There are some matches within AEW that are fun, but there are times where some of it feels groan-worthy. The countless false finishes, the frequent amount of dives and flips, and at times, the unlimited amount of super kicks and top rope manuevers can wear thin. Especially when most of your roster wrestles a similar way, or it happens frequently every week. So yes, there have been a few episodes where I lose interest mid-way through the show on my sofa, and begin looking around on my tablet because after 30 flips - it doesn't feel as amazing anymore.
That is my worry for AEW. That this "style" or foundation is not built for the long term. Is it something that is long-standing enough for AEW to be successful, profitable, and sustainable for years to come? I hope so.
End of my weak diatribe.
But with that said, I get that this is 2019 pro wrestling. I accept it. And it is probably the reason I enjoy the new NWA as much as I currently do. Go figure.
Chris Jericho's ability to reinvent himself is utterly, vastly, and tremendously underrated in the world of pro wrestling. At age 49, Jericho is still VERY relevant in a fresh and entertaining way, which says so much about his talent and place within pro wrestling lore. Not only has the character of Chris Jericho evolved, but it has kept a piece of its former version that ties in quite beautifully. This includes the addition of new signature moves and finishers. The Judas effect, a simple spinning back elbow, and his ability get it over, is a great example of this.
It might be time for us to push Jericho from the conversation of one of the best of his generation, to one of the best of all-time. Yeah, really.
By the way, Judas by Fozzy is a tremendous song.
Genius. This concept is absolutely genius.
We've seen companies try rankings and other "sports-like" concepts for periods at a time before they revery back to the usual pro wrestling stuff. However, AEW has stuck with it and even has made it a core part of the product. The simple idea of win-loss records gives every match meaning, and also, dare I say, gives logic to World Title matches (huh, imagine that?!).
It's also the subtlety of scenarios where even some of their biggest stars have lost cleanly, which gives the concept, and the overall product, some serious wrestling legitimacy. I love it. And I hope they keep this as a staple of their product forever.
CODY FREAKIN RHODES
WWE missed the boat on Cody, didn't they?
The answer is yes. The answer is very much, yes.
WHO ARE YA?
Call me old-school (and I'm sure you got that from my weak diatribe above), but I love me some pro wrestling characters. There is just a sense of cheesy-ness that I enjoy in pro wrestling. In my opinion, that's what makes it pro wrestling. Just me, just my cup of tea. Just one of the reasons I love the escape.
AEW doesn't need to have that element as part of their product, but I feel like they've done an extremely poor job on introducing some of their wrestlers to the casual fans - like myself.
Yes, we've seen them over the past few weeks, but there should be more to some of the wrestlers we've seen throughout the broadcasts. I love that there have been no "backstage segments" thus far on the show, but the product relies on Ross, Tony Schiavone, and Excalibur to relay who they are, and we haven't gotten that just yet.
My brief example is the debut of "The Butcher" and "The Blade" accompanied by Allie aka "The Bunny" this week. The debut, while executed perfectly, just felt flat from a lack of connection. Sure, they're new, but to a new viewer, all of the talent are. I just need more than the screaming of "That's the Butcher and the Blade!!"
AEW has a talented roster, but there is a small wonder of how much it can grow if their talent remain anonymous, or better yet, homogenous to casual viewers.
While I've yet to come around to the "The Big Hurt" nickname because it just triggers thoughts of Hall of Fame Baseball Player, Frank Thomas (Or is it just me?), Jake Hager's recent AEW baptism is just another stark reminder of how important the role of creativity and presentation is in pro wrestling.
Hager looks and feels bad ass in the almost-two months he's been on AEW television.
AEW WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Best looking championship belt in pro wrestling, period. So gorgeous.
There is something special about the representation within AEW. While Cody has mentioned throughout many media forms that this will be at the core of AEW's existence, it is still awesome to see it followed through on.
Though, what makes it feel special is not just the intent of the inclusivity, but rather, the non-exploitation of it. As someone who was (and still is) utterly annoyed with the branding of the "Womens (R)Evolution" by the WWE for their - just to repeat, THEIR - renaissance of women's wrestling, it is great to see AEW allow their diverse offering to speak for itself without forced agenda or branding.
Again, similar to what most of AEW is - this has been very different.
And very different is exactly what a stale pro wrestling industry has needed for some time now. And fortunately, they've got it with AEW.