I've had my share of thoughts on pro wrestling's status over the past few years. At best, in some form or expression, pretty much every pro wrestling fan has. The topic has been discussed ad nauseam and is one for concern because yes, the industry is in decline despite the various options and bigger-than-ever-money deals in effect. With rapidly declining television ratings (of the traditional...outdated kind), but even more so important, with the damning fact that the average age of the pro wrestling fan is rising at the levels of concern that mirrors climate change.
As much as we argue about its existence or reality, or prevention - the problem is here and is growing.
I've shared in the past that contrary to popular belief, or what we experienced during the early stages of the pandemic (i.e. no fans, taped shows, limited access to relied upon stars), pro wrestling had a significant opportunity to capture old fans, casuals, new fans, and so much more. Especially when for a period of time, it was the only new content being produced. It failed.
But, that very failure is indicative of the problem for me with pro wrestling today. It's not compelling television. And more importantly, it's lost one of its precious qualities of spectacle - appointment television.
IMPACT Wrestling has been my go-to product over the last two years. It's been creative. It's been episodic. The storylines have arcs and developments, and everything feels like it matters in some way, whether you agree with the direction or not.
Even during the pandemic, creative outlets like Wrestle House were unique and strayed away from the formulaic (hint hint, synonym for stale) presentation and approach that has been the WWE.
However, with IMPACT, I don't receive AXS TV through my cable provider, and thus, I rely upon the IMPACT Plus platform to view the product. Because of that, I am always weeks behind, and I end up "catching up" on the product the way we've all become conditioned or sociologically changed to seek out entertainment on our time.
It works. I'm always behind and surprises are rare because of it. Despite that element, the product is still sought after, which is a win in today's competition for eyeballs on content. I'm sure you, a wrestling fan, have your chosen product as well. And that's cool. That's the amazing part about pro wrestling in 2021.
But, it's STILL not like it used to be.
Monday Night Raw is now the kind of after-thought that would absolutely shock 14-year-old me. I don't even connect unless I feel a buzz to check it out. My ties to the WWE right now are merely nostalgia and a life-long routine and/or for viewing tradition. New Japan Pro Wrestling is still rare but enjoyed delicacy on my palette I get every so often when I'm craving or have the disposable time for it. The NWA, which quickly became a favorite of mine prior to the pandemic's start, is now behind a paywall for which I'm not as connected to invest in at this point. MLW is just there for me. So is ROH. And everything else.
Again, the options are great. That's been the underlying saving grace for the industry right now. Just my opinion.
With all of that said, enter AEW - especially so over the past few weeks. Especially since fans returned for television shows. There is something that has been so energetic about the product that it FEELS gripping. Over the past several weeks, AEW's product feels urgent and so incredibly energetic.
Is it a perfect product? No. However, the freshness of it all, the energy of the crowd, the intrigue of the talent and the stories, the feel of each week having occurrences that matter with the build-up for interest for the weeks to come, all of it is enough to not only have frequented my interest with routine DVR viewings but probably for the first time in so long, I found myself on my couch and in front of my television set with the intent of watching Dynamite live, as it occurred. And then, of course, hooked enough to follow up on Friday night for the debuting show, Rampage.
Again, I'm not the biggest AEW fan. However, it's so hard to argue their buzz, their intrigue, and yes, the compelling nature of the product from show to show, and how those shows directly impact (no pun intended) other interests in pro wrestling - yes, like IMPACT Wrestling. Ahhh yes, so much appreciation for that "forbidden door" being kicked open.
I've been removed from the day-to-day banter (or sometimes exhaustive complaining) in pro wrestling fandom. Quite honestly, the removal often serves for a better fan experience at times in merely ALLOWING yourself to be a fan. With that said, I have found the "forbidden door" to be so exciting and fun, and have thoroughly enjoyed the storyline that has been the dominant Kenny Omega holding multiple titles across multiple companies.
The idea of various matchups, surprise appearances, possibilities, and even so, tribal pride for brands (just peek at IMPACT Wrestling fans who have been in their feelings about "the belt not being home"), has injected a new life and intrigue into the industry.
Watching Christian Cage defeat Kenny Omega on Rampage reflected the very reason I fell in love with pro wrestling. Spectacles. Hype. Drama. Characters. Nostalgia. Good guy vs. Bad guy. Emotion. And yes, left wanting more, and thinking about what's next.
To sum it up - compelling storytelling.
For the first time in so long, I made plans to be in front of a television at a specific time with the full intent and expectation to be entertained, and I got it. And when it was over, I couldn't wait for other upcoming programs to see where it will all go (IMPACT for Christian's debut, Dynamite for the fallout, and Rampage for a follow-up).
For me, that's extremely rare in today's pro wrestling world.
When wrestling is appointment television - that's when it's fun. That's what makes it more special. That's the intangible assessment we overlook whenever ratings are shared and discussed.
Just speaking for this fan, me, and the opinion of no one else - that's what pro wrestling is missing today. The answer is that simple.
Is this appointment television? Everything else just flows from there.
Photo courtesy: Slam Wrestling