I was happy but not overly surprised, to see the announcement this week that Chris Jericho will be joining AEW (All Elite Wrestling). Jericho has a history of surprising people with his career decisions, but after recent appearances in NJPW and putting on show-stealing matches, I doubt many professional wrestling fans were all that surprised to see Y2J rock up at a recent AEW press conference to confirm he would be joining the promotion joining the likes of Cody and the Young Bucks. It was great to hear that he’s joining not because of the money, but because he wants to and he believes that the new federation can be a success going forward. Basically, it was his love of wrestling and the knowledge that his name and experience can only benefit the fledgling company. Perhaps this is the dawn of something special for professional wrestling?
Since the end of the Monday Night Wars and the collapse of WCW, the WWF/WWE has always been the big dog of the professional wrasslin’ business. With turnovers in the tens of millions of dollars, tens of thousands of fans selling out arenas, a successful subscription service in the WWE Network and the cream of the crop of talent, many may have thought that WWE simply had no competition. Yes, there was a brief stint where TNA looked to be upping the ante with their investment into their product, but it was never going to trouble the WWE. Impact still exists in some form or another, but could never go toe to toe with Vince McMahon & co at the level WCW once did.
I don’t want to see WWE fail in any way, nor be put out of business – far from it – but I think a degree of competition is necessary, not just to stop WWE from resting on their laurels, but to also give work to the thousands of wrestlers out there who may not ever get the chance to shine on a Monday Night Raw or Smackdown Live.
When the Monday Night Wars were at their peak, Vince only had one target and one ‘enemy’ to focus on. If he managed to outperform them, that was all he needed to do. Now, however, there is a lot of competition out there – not competition for his talent, as there was before, but promotions that are competing for his fan base, competing for his time, his viewership and his potential revenue. I’m not alone in saying that Chris Jericho’s matches on NJPW brought fresh eyes to that product, indeed the success of many non-Japanese stars have piqued the interest of many of the worldwide mainstream wrestling fans. That’s not to say that Japanese wrestling wasn’t always successful or popular – it’s in a league of its own and has been spoken of fondly by many professional wrestlers and commentators alike – but the arrival of a global name like Jericho did bring in new fans to the product.
The continued rise of NXT has its own fan base too. I recently wrote about how NXT fans are a breed of their own and have a great affinity for the product. They’re not the typical WWE stereotype, and they know what they like. The NXT fans have a broad spectrum and are spread across the globe. Perhaps it’s the more intimate production in smaller arenas and stars who aren’t all 6’8 and 300 pounds that draws in this crowd. Perhaps it’s the ‘realness’ of it all that gives it the popularity that continues to grow. The brand has produced some top talent, but recently the stars aren’t being seen as on a conveyor belt to the ‘big leagues’ but stars in their own right on a show they’re a massive part of and love very dearly. Case in point; as much as I think Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano are freakin’ awesome performers, would you trust Vince & co to manage them right on Monday Night Raw, or would you trust Triple H and his crew to manage them better in NXT?
The growth of NXT in the UK only proves the point that the baby brother of Raw & Smackdown Live is growing up fast. With a rumored franchise starting up in Germany in 2019, after the successful NXT UK run, NXT could be the fastest growing wrestling brand in decades. Yes, I know that NXT is a WWE product, but nobody could have imagined it would grow into something so successful and that its popularity isn’t slowing down. I just hope the top WWE brass don’t try to stunt the growth of NXT in favor of Raw or Smackdown Live. Much as I loathe to say it, I think certain quarters in WWE really despise pro wrestling success outside of their mainstream and will do all they can to derail or not recognize it. For example, how long did it take them to remove Jericho’s image from the Raw intro this week? Crazy, huh?
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEWrestling) January 9, 2019
But back to AEW and what it could mean for WWE and wrestling fans around the world. I think with the rise and fall of many new promotions, hopefully a myriad of lessons have been learned and the new brand will be successful. With experienced heads involved like Jericho, Brandi & Cody Rhodes, Billy Gunn and The Young Bucks – and that’s just the beginning – the promotion looks to be off to a good start.
What I really enjoy about these other federations getting traction is that professional wrestlers aren’t limited to just working for WWE anymore. In days gone by they may have been given the stark choice of headlining small indie promotions or working the dark matches of WWE, but for those guys and girls, the love of the sport wouldn’t put food on the table so the inevitable choice was to go to WWE and try to make a success of it. For smaller talent, it would have been very difficult and I think the Ciampas & Garganos of the world would have struggled to be headliners in the days before NXT.
Now that there are more options around the world and with the growth of the internet and TV channels, there are lots of opportunities for professional wrestlers out there. They don’t have to scrape by and can really carve out successful careers of their own without ever having to sign a contract in Titan Towers. For those looking to be a household name, create a brand or be a star in their own right they no longer have to hope someone from WWE will see their work or give them a try-out. No, they can belong to somewhere else, somewhere where the elder statesmen and people making the decisions, like Chris Jericho and Cody Rhodes, aren’t there for the money, but for the love of the business. People involved who want to see young talent come through. People who recognize that talent and see it for what it is. People who don’t only see a six pack or a pair of big boobs as a draw for the fans. People who love wrestling.
For those who choose to walk the path not emblazoned with the WWE logo, I wish them every success and really hope they can thrive. For the WWE, I wish them success too, but to acknowledge and understand that though they may be the biggest name in the game, they’re not the only players in it and it is the fans who decide what’s popular and what’s over. Hopefully the rise of the federations can give a huge boost to wrestling in 2019 and herald in a new renaissance era.
What do you think? Will AEW be a success or is it too early to tell? What will this mean for the WWE and their talent? Should WWE just accept there will be competition and that it is a good thing, or will they be bitter and ostracize any former stars that leave to join another promotion? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.