Is This Really a War?
The time has finally come for All Elite Wrestling to make their mark in the landscape of professional wrestling. Like WWE, they are run by a billionaire (Shad Kahn who is reportedly worth over six billion dollars is the primary investor). Also lIke WWE, they have a weekly show on a major cable network (though WWE‘s primary show is now Smackdown which debuts on Fox this Friday). Unlike WWE, they have never ever done this before.
WWE has been creating weekly episodic television for over 25 years. They have also survived competition before. I use the word “survived” purposefully. The WWE did not “beat” WCW as is often portrayed in documentaries and conversations about the famed “Monday Night War” . They simply survived by doing what they do best and trusting WCW would eventually implode, which they did. If they do the same thing now, they will get the same result. The only chance AEW has to truly compete with WWE, if that is in fact their goal, would be to somehow rattle Vince McMahon by making a huge splash early on and forcing him into unforced errors. I do not that think that is likely, but considering the reactionary decision by WWE to put their very popular developmental product, NXT, on USA directly opposed to AEW, anything is possible.
For the most part, AEW has played it humble and claimed that they do not expect to beat WWE. Pretty regularly, though, you hear strong hints of a desire for AEW to compete with the big dogs in Stamford. Most of that desire likely comes from the heart and mind of Cody Rhodes, the son of a son of a plumber and a former WWE talent himself, who has been on an inspiring journey since he left the WWE and started traveling the world several years ago. Rhodes is the most compelling story behind the scenes of AEW. However, he is not the best wrestler on the roster, and that is by design. The roster is loaded with wrestlers who are as physically capable as some of the best WWE superstars. With this kind of talent, AEW believes that they can out-wrestle WWE. They have pointed out that the WWE product is too much talk and not enough wrestling and that the AEW product will emphasize in ring action. Sounds great.
I love the art of professional wrestling. I have no use for opera or ballet. The dance of two great wrestlers telling a story in the ring is one of my favorite things to watch. That is what I fell in love with as a seven year old. But with the WWE’s entire library available on their own Network that I happily pay for (and occasionally host on for full disclosure) — how do you get me excited to watch new wrestlers work instead of spending my time watching the build to Wrestlemania IV?
Some of it comes from great wrestling, but in 2019, it is more about charismatic characters telling compelling stories. This is where I have the most concern for AEW. Do they have the charismatic characters? Yes I believe they do. In Kenny Omega, they have the best wrestler in the world to never work in WWE. They have Chris Jericho, whose work is still pretty solid and whose character is as perfectly obnoxious as ever. Darby Allin is must-see TV. Watching him wrestle is like watching Steve-O from Jackass if he was an unbelievable athlete. Awesome Kong was on her way to stardom before her wrestling career took a backseat and her acting career took off (including a lead role on GLOW on Netflix). I won’t even spend time on the value of The Young Bucks and Dean Ambrose who are all bonafide superstars. No, talent is not an issue.
My biggest concern may be the fact that AEW has repeatedly said that they do not want writers telling stories. They want the wrestlers to tell their own stories — unscripted! That’s not a good thing. Nor is it good when WWE takes the mic out of their best stars’ hands and gives all the power to writers who don’t understand the essence of the character. By and large, though, writers are helpful. I say this knowing that AEW will not just hand the mic to their stars and say “have at it Pal” but regardless, the conundrum is the fact that AEW thinks they can succeed by not doing the very same things that have ultimately worked for keeping a wrestling show on television in the modern era.
I am so excited for the competition to begin. It benefits everyone, especially the fans.
But is this a war? No.