While I’ve always been a fan of pro-wrestling since ’85, my love for it goes in waves where something might turn me off for a period before another thing reinvigorates my interest. In the past 10 years, I only would catch glimpses of it through YouTube and barely follow the results on news sites. I would say within the past 4-5 months, my interest has started to peak again as a result of numerous changes in the industry. So that begs the question: what exactly has caught my attention?
Let me start off by saying that the actual wrestling still sucks. The presentation, the style and people involved are pretty blase for me. I can’t stand the hot shot booking, the lack of real builds, the stupid unending talking segments, the horrible comedy, the lack of passion in interviews, the bad characters that fail to resonate with me and the shitty style that looks more like a bad version of some ridiculous Street Fighter game rather than anything resembling a contest.
That said, there’s a lot going right at this moment that has turned not just my head but others as well. Of course, the biggest thing is the growth of AEW as an alternative product to the WWE. It still falls into what I dislike about “modern” pro-wrestling but the fact is that the owner has deep pockets and is making giant waves that hasn’t been seen in years with all the signings.
The second thing is that the WWE is casually releasing talent for “budget” concerns, which partly is helping to enable AEW to build up a more professional looking roster compared to the past 1-2 years of indy wrestlers (and I refuse to call them stars because that would mean they are recognized on much wider scale). While not every released talent are going to AEW, they did sign quite a few major names such as Paul Wight, Mark Henry, Christian Cage, Aleister/Malakai Black, Andrade, and theoretically Daniel Bryans and CM Punk (although in Punk’s case he’s been out of pro-wrestling for some time). And once more contracts 90 days clauses expire, I expect more signings to occur (such as CJ Perry/Lana, Buddy Murphy, Bray Wyatt, etc.)
I think what makes the situation interesting is the speculation aspect and the freshening up of the scene in general. While there’s no doubt in my mind that the WWE won’t be picking up any AEW people in the near future, the fact is that roster rotations are healthy. Like during the 80s, you had more promotions to choose from so the local main stream guy could go to NWA, WWF, AWA, WCCW, etc. which would make someone accustomed to watching both programs go, “Hey, isn’t that….” Then the person (especially in WWF) gets repackaged and you get to see what they can do on that new platform.
And it doesn’t necessarily have to be AEW getting WWE’s “sloppy seconds”. For instance, MLW got Danny Limelight. I didn’t think he was horrible as some of the other people in AEW but he really had no chance to shine if he stuck with them, especially with more big names coming in soon. In his case, he can use the smaller platform to learn, get more experience under his belt, work in smaller crowds without the pressure and leverage the time he had in AEW to make a name for himself.
For WWE itself, that’s a very strange situation because they have been really stagnate for a while. McMahon himself admitted that he doesn’t look at AEW as competition, which I can see is true. He even made an underhanded remark about giving them more talent (perhaps Bray Wyatt?). And I’ve said that the WWE at this stage is beyond pro-wrestling. They’re focused on other ways of marketing their product whether it’s distribution, global awareness, incorporating more technology, etc. Also, they have their own methodologies to create new talent that people will “buy” at some point, which means that everyone in their roster is expendable.
Maybe some people may describe their situation as inhumane but it’s just raw numbers talking at this point. I’m sure with their analytics and data group, the WWE can easily pinpoint people who aren’t moving merchandise, creating enough buzz or lacking the special oomph that McMahon is looking for. It has nothing to do with whether or not they’re liked (unless they have a special inside relationship to the McMahons). That’s just how advanced they are with their business model.
That said, I think besides the speculation that’s going on, what I’m the most eager to see is how AEW can improve since they have the spotlight at the moment. I will give them credit in having the buzz and the heart where they need it. But they do need the brains and that’s something they’re severely lacking since their leadership is pretty immature (both mentally and from a business point of view). I think with Punk and Bryan coming in, they are at the cusp where they can and should pull the trigger to make an attempt to move in a far more serious and mainstream direction. Up until now, the pandemic forced them into this weird mode where they just did whatever the fuck to get by since the crowds weren’t around. However, I have yet to see a real long term vision and that’s what I’m sticking around for.
My worry about AEW is how they just haven’t demonstrated long term goals. There barely are any builds nor story lines that really are consistent on a week-to-week basis that highlight certain people and give them small wins that lead to bigger things to convince people that a person can be a threat and have credibility in facing the top people. Also, matches and titles are hot shotted left to right with street fights that end up being visual disasters getting thrown out casually. They have rankings but not tiering of talent during shows. Like how does Julia Hart get a prime time TV spot but the Varsity Blondes aren’t being given tag team matches on Dynamite despite being near the top of the rankings? It’s just moronic booking to me.
Anyway, while pro-wrestling may have a lot of movement, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s in a good state right now. It’s getting better in that there are more options opening up for wrestlers to have. But wrestling has been so badly damaged over the years especially from the so-called Attitude Era and the ECW days along with the ’99 period when Russo eventually went to WCW that it hasn’t really recovered. Add to the fact that the style itself has evolved into such a dangerous medium that it looks worse but presents situations where people are more injury prone because of the stupid spots that I’m afraid of the direction that the wrestlers believe they must go towards in order to up their game.