Several weeks back Hikaru Shida defended her AEW women’s championship against then-NWA women’s champion Thunder Rosa on the main card of AEW’s All Out pay per view. Directly after, we published a column (AEW All Out Shida, Rosa World Title Bout One of 2020’s Most Important Matches) outlining why that match, regardless of what you think of its quality, was one of the most important wrestling matches of 2020.
That holds true today.
The louder thunder gets, you know a storm front is getting closer. If 2020 has reaped any benefits for us as fans, it’s that promotions have been helping each other along, or connecting talent to other opportunities at a time when it’s surely needed. Although the crackle isn’t booming yet to the sound of another MSG-style card, the pulse of wrestling and its continued growth has made its presence known.
Since All Out, Thunder Rosa appeared twice more on AEW programming before dropping her title Oct. 27 to AEW’s Serena Deeb on the United Wrestling Network’s Primetime Live. Deeb, since her own title win, has defended the NWA title twice on AEW programming (once in a taped match before actually winning), notably against former NWA champion Allysin Kay on the Full Gear pre-show over the weekend.
Despite recent speculation regarding her contract status, confusion caused entirely by Dave Meltzer, Thunder Rosa — who’s very much still under contract to the NWA for now — rained on Deeb’s parade. That move made it clear that not only is Rosa not done with the NWA title, but neither are the NWA and AEW.
Rosa emerging for the first time since her loss was not the only case of an outside wrestling company’s representative appearing at Full Gear.
From Winnipeg, With Love
Don Callis, an EVP with Impact Wrestling, provided guest commentary during the show’s opener between Kenny Omega and Hangman Page. Callis and Omega are no strangers to one another, having known each other from Winnipeg, Canada’s local wrestling circles. It is clearly a unique case and hardly means we’re on the cusp of seeing the North or Motor City Machine Guns challenging the Young Bucks for the AEW titles imminently, but the doors, similarly to the NWA, appear open.
There’s also the NJPW wrinkle in pro wrestling’s fabric of reality. While Saturday marked one of the first times Impact was mentioned on AEW TV, NJPW has been mentioned multiple times in recent memory to promote Jon Moxley and Lance Archer’s title match, as well as continued references to Kenny Omega’s run in NJPW.
What’s interesting, especially where Mox and Archer was concerned was the copyrighted footage/images from their NJPW encounter that were used to promote their AEW rematch. Finally, NJPW legend Hiroshi Tanahashi appeared during Chris Jericho’s 30th anniversary package.
These are all such small things really, but what they do show is that at the very least these organizations are communicating with one another and acknowledging the other parts of the professional wrestling ecosystem.
United in Primetime
This desire or willingness of companies to work together is not new, especially these last several years: where we’ve most notably seen NJPW and ROH cross promote, NWA willing to work with anyone, AEW working with AAA while sending stars to NJPW, and now Impact and NJPW are rumoured to be on the cusp of something with Gallows and Anderson potentially heading back as part of their deals.
Absent from that list is the recent United Wrestling Network show, Primetime Live, which has featured a variety of independent stars — champions included — in addition to talent from NWA, AEW, MLW and NJPW. They’re also on the cusp of crowning their own world champion, with the likes of Mike Bennett remaining in the semi-finals. Does it have the best field? No, especially with some promotions pulling talent off it. But the combination of NWA, their Championship Wrestling affiliates, and talent from NJPW, AEW and MLW performing on the same show indicates that willingness to cooperate and work together for both their own sake and fans alike. And once again, if All-In taught us anything, that’s a net positive for professional wrestling when everyone works together to pull each other up as opposed to being purely isolationist like WWE.
“Good Shit” Island
One of the benefits of companies working together and collaborating, not necessarily cross-promoting, is it freshens up the products, freshens up the match-ups and moves towards delivering dream match style bouts to fans that frankly we just weren’t going to get since the death of WCW and the subsequent monopoly of WWE controlling wrestling and its larger narratives; funneling everything through the WWE lens and redefining the context of what wrestling is so it’s indistinguishable from what WWE presents week to week. And as fans, we’ve either let them have it outright and continued to watch, or started watching something else; perhaps even stopped watching altogether.
Monotony is a death knell, and while no company is perfect or puts on the best product all the time, there is something to be said for being willing to change methods which no longer fit the time we’re living in as wrestling consumers. Vince McMahon won the Monday Wars and put every other major company of yesterday into their own graves. Congratulations… so what now?
The problem WWE has faced at least over the last decade and perhaps beyond has been their hesitancy toward evolving their product. And as matter of reality, when the business as a whole falters on your watch as it has under Vince’s, that’s no one’s fault other than theirs. It can be likened fairly accurately to a coach running plays from their old playbooks — those trick plays might have worked in the past, but eventually your competitors learn from them and force you into fumbling.
WWE is a publicly-traded company and have been in business for many years and at one point were very successful with millions upon millions of viewers watching. They have every right to run their business as they see fit with that track record. Yet, when every major metric defies the logic in continuing the path they’re on, you — even if you’re a fan with Stockholm Syndrome having grown up only with WWE — need to acknowledge the ever-present reality of WWE moroseness regarding their execution creatively or inability to think outside the box or even plan ahead.
If WWE was the end all and be all, fans wouldn’t outgrow the product and walk away. There’s a reason fans leave the product or the business as a whole. It doesn’t matter if it’s the content, creative monotony, or even a simple of matter of them showing you respect as a fan, there are facets of the WWE model that are outdated. Were the opposite the true “smart marks” wouldn’t flock to NJPW and only watch them. Fans wouldn’t “keep it real” and hipster-like and only follow the indies. Were that the case, All-In would not have made the impact it did and ultimately AEW wouldn’t have the traction it has. Moreover, when it really comes down to it, were WWE enough, less than 5 years after WCW’s demise the UFC maybe doesn’t have as much of a viewership boom following the Ultimate Fighter series debut.
You can’t ultimately assume you aren’t the problem when you’re doing the same thing and people watch less. The saying isn’t survival of the most stale, it’s survival of the fittest. Paraphrasing a quote of HBO’s Newsroom TV show, Will McAvoy says the first step in addressing a problem is to simply recognize there is one. And in this context: WWE is not the greatest promotion in the world anymore.
It is “A” promotion, and that’s a key distinction to make. Billions of dollars don’t mean anything in an era where your actual viewership and attendance are down. Those billions are great and kudos to them for still making money, but what is their contribution to making wrestling better? To future proof it? WWE is one piece of the puzzle, and it’s a big piece surely, yet to act like they’re the whole picture is ignorant. For them to act like they’re “it” is insulting. They don’t change anything, and expect change all the same, while balking at change as it’s happening to return to the norms that entrench their position.
“Change the World”
Wrestling won’t change the world, it also probably shouldn’t be an example on how to act 100% of the time. The real world isn’t built that way. But in modern pro wrestling terms, the business wasn’t always this way until McMahon remade it in his image like a modern day Rome of Wrestling. The problem with empires in their standing against the test of time is they don’t change what worked and stand in the way of themselves being part of what’s to come by staying inside a safe zone of their own rule.
For the business to make any sort of return to its past greatness, it needs its spark and a will to take a flint and start it. Maybe it began with All-In, maybe it really started back when Cody left WWE, maybe it started back when WCW died. Who knows? But what’s in front of is this… collaboration is the path forward, because it’s in that piece of the business where you find pure excitement for something new or something unexpected. To recapture that wonder of being a fan; it still exists, it isn’t dead.
The building blocks are there, and piece by piece they’re being laid and set. NWA working with AEW. AEW lending NJPW talent. NJPW working with ROH; deals being worked out that allow cross-pollination if not cross-promotion.
Promoters will make their money. Talent can work where they can and are taken care of, and the fans win with great wrestling everywhere: in the end, isn’t that the best case scenario? Shouldn’t that be the point?