There’s Never been A Better Time To Be A Wrestling Fan

Our new contributor Jason tells us why the landscape now is better than it’s been in years.

There’s Never been A Better Time To Be A Wrestling Fan

So, let’s be honest, there’s not really been a better time to be a wrestling fan since possibly the 1990’s.

No seriously, hear me out.

There really hasn’t been a better time to be a fan since the 90’s, back when WCW was finding its feet (feet which were growing exponentially) and ECW was the upstart Promotion that – like so many back in the day – began as a regional territory that could, and becoming the brightest flame that burnt quickest.

There was no shortage of diverse, entertaining action that collectively rolled forward into the biggest boom period that professional wrestling had ever seen, revolutionising the product in front, and behind, the cameras.

Fast forward twenty years, and we’re in a recession. No, not the COVID19 economic recession –that’s another story – but a wrestling recession. A wrestling recession where we’re missing one of the most electric elements of the sport we love so much… The live audience itself.

Contradictory though, right? How can it be a good time to be a wrestling fan if it’s in this apparent recession?

Without reiterating a history lesson that is almost cliché at this point, we know what Vinnie Mac obtained all his competition back in the great massacre of 2001 leading to ‘Mania XVII, the pinnacle of WrestleMania and arguably the greatest all round wrestling PPV. Of. All. Time.

Following that, from the ashes of WCW and ECW, came a ton of imposters, independents and wannabe’s who would come and go leaving but a footnote in the annals of grappling history. Of these promotions, only two made a lasting… *ahem* Impact (unless you’d count CZW, in which case, three). TNA, now IMPACT! Wrestling, being the most storied of the two, and Ring of Honor who still have a dedicated fan base but have never really recovered after being ravaged by the beast they helped create – The Elite, and subsequently, All Elite Wrestling.

Since WWE eradicated the competition, the market for professional wrestling seems to have fallen off the radar a little, presenting a smaller, but more rabid, following.  A great many things have caused the business to evolve and grow - the internet and on demand media consumption primarily and the financial figures that the WWE play with are as undeniable as Tessa Blanchard (according to her old IMPACT! Gimmick, at least!). That being said, there’s no doubt that viewership has decreased – hence my recession analogy - and we’re at a similar place now to where we were back in the fledgling days of Ted Turner’s foray into the ‘rasslin’ landscape  – WWE is the brand name with no realcommercially well-known alternatives. We’ve literally gone Back to the Future, to the same status quo we had prior to the development of the NWO and the stratospheric rise of World Championship Wrestling. And as such, we come back– full circle - to the beginning of this piece.

If anyone knows me, they know I’m a bit of a Sci-Fi guy and I’d like to liken the current landscape of the wrestling world, to one of my favourite movies – Snowpiercer.

If anyone has seen Snowpiercer - the Chris Evans starring movie, not the Netflix show – it’s about the last bastion of humanity, stuck in class/caste system on an eternally self-powering train that perpetually runs a circumference of the globe across a one year period of time. Chris Evans is a reluctant leader of an uprising that seeks to overthrow the system in place through revolution and change.

Stay with me… It’s relevant, I promise.

So it’s revealed right at the very end (Spoiler!) that what his character has achieved through the movie has been done before by another, and that it’s part of the cycle of their existence. It wasn’t identical in its execution, but the end result was the same. I feel that this is exactly where we find ourselves now in the world of professional wrestling, taking us back to my original thought - So, let’s be honest, there’s not really been a better time to be a wrestling fan since possibly the 1990’s.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that when the big players become complacent, it creates opportunity. And finally, we have some alternatives that may well be able to capitalise on said opportunities.

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for three weeks or so, you’ll be very aware that Jon Moxley lost the AEW Championship to Kenny Omega. This wasn’t unexpected, but the circumstances of how it occurred really were, with the assistance of close friend, and IMPACT! Wrestling Executive, Don Callis who supplied the Mic that Kenny would subsequently puncture Mox’s head with and would result in the 1-2-3. Cue a hasty retreat from the new champion, and the announcement at the very end of AEW Dynamite – from Callis, no less (the puppet master, based on his twitter handle The Invisible Hand) - that a statement would be made next week – not on Dynamite, but on IMPACT!.

Wait… What?!

The internet both exploded and fizzled all at the same time.

Some were quick to shoot down the notion that IMPACT! are worthy of the new limelight they’ve been thrust into thanks to the efforts of All Elite Wrestling and the (apparent) working relationship that these two companies have seemingly developed. Others believe that it’s two small fish trying to be more than the sum of their parts using an underwhelming crossover to promote themselves – you know, a little bit like a couple of guys that are flung together and thrown into a tag-team just because… Well, just because (sorry, creative don’t have anything for you right now).

Whatever the viewpoint, and we’re all entitled to our viewpoint assuming it’s presented respectfully, it’s. Got. People. Talking. There’s a noticeable buzz around the events that transpired with the more positive and hopeful fans considering the possibility of those ‘inter-promotional dream matches’ similar to the Alliance dream that was presented to us back in 2001. Sadly, we all woke up from that one pretty quickly, in a proverbial cold sweat – and, who knows, we may from this one too.

But, and this is really where I wanted to bring this whole piece to. People are talking, and the buzz? Well, to quote a legend in his TNA days - oh it’s real, it’s damn real.

For the first time in a very long time, potentially the first time really in nearly 20 years, we’re at a point where there are some legitimate mainstream alternatives to the WWE who are presenting something different – and please, don’t misconstrue this as a ‘they’re gonna put Vinnie Mac outta business!’ piece, because it’s not. At this point the WWE has so much revenue and so many licencing deals, TV contracts and mainstream exposure – not to mention the Network and their incredible back catalogue of content – that they are effectively self-sufficient and would probably survive the next Ice Age with change left over.

In many ways WWE is like a box of Cadbury’s Heroes (feel free to make some Forrest Gump jokes here; it crossed my mind too…). You buy the tub, you have a selection of different chocolatey goodness but, deep down, it’s all just the same Cadbury chocolate you already know. You’re not going to find any surprises. You’re certainly not going to find a truffle, or a Fererro Rocher or a Turkish Delight. But you know what you’re getting and it’s decent. Not poor, not fancy. Decent and reliable. There’s really bad, cheap alternatives, and there’s the odd (usually pricey) novelty hanging around, but by and large, you’ve got the reliable, familiar market leader, readily available at a reasonable price.

WWE is exactly that. Decent, and reliable. You’re getting your brands, your NXT, NXT UK, Raw and Smackdown, but they all work with the same impeccably produced presentation. The same style of working that has been ingrained into all their talent in the Performance Centre (Center?) irrespective of where they began their careers and where they, quite literally, learned the ropes. The same camera angles, the same odd ‘I’m watching this match backstage’ pose, the same no blood rule and PG limitations, the same restrictions on what the wrestlers (‘Sports Entertainers’) can and can’t do, the same scripted promo’s… You get the point. When the Crossovers happen, as cool as they are (here’s looking at you Survivor Series), we know these guys and gals are all on the same payroll. Different chocolates in the Heroes box that is WWE. Satisfaction, guaranteed.

When I was a kid, we had family in Germany. They’d always send a box of German chocolates. It was the highlight of the Christmas season for me as a child because you just could not get them here. Said relatives are no longer with us sadly, and these items are now readily available through supermarket chains where they weren’t when I was a child, so the novelty has waned a little. But this is the comparison for me.

This new allegiance between IMPACT and AEW makes me feel like that kid again. It’s new, exciting, and it doesn’t taste like Cadbury’s. Doesn’t necessarily make it better, but it’s refreshing in its individuality and I’m loving it.

I’m aware that I’ve used food (I like chocolate, what of it?) and TV analogies to make my point, but moving back into the ‘graps’ the best comparison pieces I would have is – unfortunately – the, over-used, NWO.

No one knew what the hell was going on when Scott and Kev turned up on Nitro back in ‘96. Legitimately. Pre-internet, magazines would be weeks, if not months, out of date, a lot was still very much ‘kayfabe’ back then and it was a legit question. ‘What is this? Is this for real?’ Seeing Callis turn up on Dynamite was very cool, simply as a fan of Callis and the IMPACT product (yeah, I’ll say it. Come at me…) and when he finally got involved in the action, it really brought back memories of a time when things were not so rote, so… unexciting and predetermined as to resemble one big, overly telegraphed Hulk Hogan feud where the end is never in doubt. Let’s have some more Flair/Hart WWE Title surprises please.

(Note – the above references a WWE, then WWF, championship changing hands on a house show).

It was unexpected and unusual, and that’s where we are now.

No one knows what shape or form this pairing will take, no one knows if there’s a long term goal here or just a brief flirtation – though in my opinion, that would be a great example of not sticking the landing – but we do know that for the time being, it has increased the interest in AEW who were already taking strides forward (especially with the arrival of Sting on the SAME episode, hitting over a million viewers for the first time!) and has generated more interest in IMPACTthan they have seen in years, possibly ever.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been perfect. That initial appearance on IMPACT! Came across as no more than a red herring in retrospect, with very little divulged in relation to what the reasoning behind it all was and whether or not there is a larger plan afoot, with Dynamite reiterating that. However, it’s also created some wonderful moments too. The Tony Khan and Tony Schiavone retro ad breaks are utterly wonderful, especially with Schiavone (who is possible doing some of his best work EVER) insinuating that TNA was so utterly terrible that it was responsible for his 18 year hiatus from the wrestling business. There was a cloaked threat toward Rich Swann, holder the IMPACT! World Championship and we had the acknowledgement of Josh Matthews on Tough Enough and Omega name checking ‘Ambrose’ rather than Moxley, breaking down the fourth wall like some kind of wrestling Deadpool. The fact that it was an announcement of an announcement is irrelevant.

In reality, barring the helicopter, there was largely nothing new on the Dynamite announcement either. Maybe this is it for a few weeks, the announcements of announcements that are never announced when they are due to be announced, until, one day… The announcement is made. Provided it’s not dragged out too long, this could generate some great increases in numbers for both companies and, seriously, what a great way to garner some real annoying heel heat – turn up, spout your mouth off about making history, lead us all on, and then pull away at the last minute.

It’s an exciting time – with new, unexpected developments.We also know now, following Final Resolution, that Omega will be making an in-ring appearance for IMPACT! at the upcoming January PPV Hard to Kill alongside Machine Gun Karl Anderson and the Big LG against IMPACT World Champion Rich Swann and the Motor City Machine Guns… There’s a lot of firepower in that one.

Of course, it seems this will inevitably lead to an Omega/Swann confrontation with Omega seemingly taking over the ‘Championship Collector’ gimmick from Austin Aries when he was in IMPACT! A few years ago; especially following his retention of the AAA Mega Championship at TriplemaniaXXVII.

Could we see a Kenny Omega IMPACT! Title run? I think it’s possible. What’s great to me is that what started with Omega and Callis, seems to be spreading to other talent. We could well see supporters and detractors in both companies, as Gallows and Anderson are clearly in league with Callis and Omega, but a lot of AEW’s talent could be presented as sympathetic to IMPACT! As they are ex-IMPACT! Wrestling – the likes of Rey Fenix, Proud and Powerful, Matt Sydal and former IMPACT! World Champions Penta El Zero M and Brian Cage. His faction leader, Taz, was also a large part of IMPACT! In the past. Personally, if this replicated the WCW vs NWO feud but managed to take it that step further – to where Bischoff initially wanted the NWO – as two established companies at war as a result of the actions of a few people, I’d be hooked.

The possibilities are both endless and electrifying, and are, from my perspective – the most exciting thing to happen since 2001. There hasn’t been this much choice, or debate, in the world of pro wrestling in SO long. Whether you appreciate the high-flying, high impact style presented by AEW, the wacky over-the-top stories that IMPACT! Showcase, or the reliable, perfectly produced, big time Superstars of the WWE, or hell – if you just love ‘Rasslin’ and appreciate them all, one thing we can all agree on is that the current climate is definitely – in the immortal words of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon – Best for Business.

I’ll be looking at the world of pro-wrestling outside of WWE in a monthly roundup here at Real Rasslin’ beginning at the end of January. You can catch me on my Podcast Two Men and Their Mics and on Twitter @J_T_Dempsey2MM or@2MenMedia.