There will be no winners in this Wrestling War
This week, the new wrestling war kicks off as All Elite Wrestling begins on television Wednesday night on TNT, going head to head with World Wrestling Entertainment’s NXT on USA. It will be the first time a pro wrestling company has gone head to head against the WWE since 2010, and the last time it felt like worthy competition since 2001.
I should first establish for everyone that doesn’t know better that this war doesn’t really exist. It isn’t really a wrestling war. WWE holds a monopolistic majority on the wrestling market share around the world, only seated in second place in countries like Japan and Mexico who have stronger television deals and a stronger cultural acceptance of professional wrestling compared to WWE in North America. While AEW is headed by the son of a multi-billionaire, the company is just beginning and aside from a few successful live events, PPV buys, and a legitimate cable television deal, have yet to really take much of a share to the WWE. So much in fact that WWE simply moved their development promotion in Florida’s television from their $9.99 per month WWE Network (with some months in the year free if you cancel at the right time) to the USA Network, a slot they were able to acquire since the Tuesday Smackdown will be moving next week to FOX on Friday.
Unlike TNA Wrestling in 2010 going up against Monday Night Raw (and losing by a considerable margin), this was AEW deciding between Tuesday and Wednesday, picking Wednesday, and WWE putting their over the top streaming product to cable to compete head to head. The WWE isn’t risking much for this war, but they are paying attention because they want 100% of the market share, and are unhappy with just a majority. AEW has a better start than any pro wrestling company in history, but they have yet to claim any significant market share in the wrestling industry.
Now that we have made it clear that “Wrestling War” is a term that means nothing in professional wrestling, whether it be, “Raw is War”, “World War III”, “WarZone”, or what have you, it doesn’t change the fact this is an exciting time in pro wrestling. AEW has sparked a lot of interest, coming off the heels of one of the hottest eras of independent wrestling all over the world, and the slow but steady process of New Japan Pro Wrestling working shows in the United States and United Kingdom. AEW is a bit of a culmination of this, as many of the hottest independent talents and North American wrestlers ended up forming AEW. When you look at all that’s happening in 2019, it feels like we’re heading towards a wrestling boom:
– The WWE is returning to network television with FOX and now has television deals with FOX and USA that will make the more money than ever for the five year duration of the deals.
– Impact Wrestling is now on AXS after their owners bought the channel, which also shows Women of Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
– Major League Wrestling has been able to gain a following with their weekly program and has been signing international television deals for broadcast.
– Ring of Honor hosted Madison Square Garden along with NJPW and their parent company will soon be able to show ROH on the former Fox Sports Networks.
– NJPW, since the MSG shows, is now running American shows without the assistance of ROH, and held a successful show in the United Kingdom up against the WWE’s NXT UK.
– AEW has received a significant marketing and advertising push with billboards in major cities, commercials showing during WWE broadcasts, and wrestlers doing interviews with the media.
With all of this happening, this must be due to the major successes in quality that these companies are producing, right? But the reality is that as we head into the week, the professional wrestling scene doesn’t seem to be showing the best it can do.
The Armies in the Fictitious Wrestling War
We can start with AEW as they have the shortest history. AEW opened in January and has had months of time to produce online programming to prepare everyone for their cable network debut. Instead we maybe get a YouTube video once a week either centering around the Young Bucks or Cody Rhodes, some of the best known figures in the company. Want to know why you should have cared about Hikaru Shida fighting Riho for a chance to wrestle for the new AEW Women’s Championship? Too bad, enjoy a Tricaster virtual studio set where MJF cuts a promo at Tony Schiavone with a background mirror that doesn’t reflect because it’s just a cheap green screen background. Trying to figure out why you should care about The Dark Order? Well you got only one video explaining who they were, it was short and cryptic, and nothing else.
AEW could be pumping content out every day letting you know why you should care about their roster but instead all you get are MJF promos, Young Bucks doing bad comedy about t-shirts that Twitter took care of a week prior to the video coming out, and Kenny Omega playing heel not towards any AEW wrestlers but to… fans of the WWE product? And to the NXT roster? This is what we have coming into their television debut. Then again, maybe owner Tony Khan realized this and that’s why he ended up signing Impact Wrestling’s entire production team away from them.
Next you have Ring of Honor. ROH looked like the number two wrestling promotion at the start of the year. Then they lost much of their top draws to AEW. But they still had a sold out MSG show to look forward to and a lot of talent, including one of the popular members of The Elite whose contract went until late October. Did ROH put their World title on that member (Marty Scurll) and ride his popularity before having someone signed beyond 2019 to eventually defeat him? No, they put it on Matt Taven, a homegrown that very few care about outside of the promotion and whose contract was expiring earlier than Scurll. And while he did re-sign, he did it days after they had him drop the ROH World Title to Rush, who would quit his parent company in Mexico on the same day. Or get fired depending who you ask. Also their attendance is dropping to their lowest numbers in years, NJPW wrestlers don’t seem to want to work there anymore, and their Women of Honor division is one of the weakest womens divisions in the world. The company feels more like TNA Wrestling when it was at its most incompetent than Impact Wrestling, who used to be TNA.
Impact Wrestling finally got onto a respectable TV network in the United States with AXS but their parent company Anthem had to purchase the channel to get it. Only a week later, AEW ends up taking producer Kevin Sullivan and with it got his entire production company, which had been doing all the work for Impact. Impact still has the stench of their old owners, and every time they seem to make some progress, they find some way to roll right back into that smell like how they have treated Killer Kross. For all of the positive attention they received for getting onto AXS, they also decided to not actually debut on the network for another month. Probably to have time to hire a new production company.
Then you have the WWE. WWE ratings have been dwindling. The creative on television has been some of the worst in its history. Their star power is at an all time low. They have taken a significant PR hit for accepting Saudi Arabia money to run propaganda events that leave most of the women off the cards (which claiming that the women’s show Evolution didn’t make enough money so they won’t do another one. They might do an all women’s Smackdown on FOX but it’ll be out of necessity with the men in Saudi Arabia that weekend.) Their WWE Universal champion is one of the worst Twitter users in the business, stepping in proverbial feces constantly. The NFL returning has pushed Monday Night Raw closer to under two million viewers. AEW merely existing has led WWE to giving out six figure contracts to anyone who is willing to take an extension.This has left their fanbase ravenous, sending their rage at wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, accusing him of being in the pocket of AEW and refusing to give an appropriate level of star ratings for WWE matches. Even though most reasonable Wrestling Observer readers tend to subtract a star on every WWE rating he gives to get a better picture of how good the match was. He even admits to being nicer to WWE on the ratings in comparison to other promotions. But hey, that’s not as funny as saying the match would be better in the Tokyo Dome.
No Winners in the Wrestling War
Nobody is on their A game really. Aside from NJPW maybe, the products being delivered are not better than last year. Exciting things are happening but nobody seems organized. Someone from AEW is saying something on Twitter and having to either apologize or lock their account soon after. Wrestling websites are legitimately forgetting when ROH holds a pay per view now. Nobody knows what Impact will look like when they get on AXS. Seth Rollins, the WWE Universal champion, recently left Twitter for alleged death threats because he sucks at Twitter (which is just mindboggling to think about. He’s back but yikes?) This doesn’t feel like a new boom. It feels like several companies trying to jump into the same well so they can be the first to break their legs. It’s hard to feel optimistic about WWE having to repeat their draft and legends night for the second time this year for their season premieres. It’s hard to feel optimistic about AEW thinking it’s fine nobody knows anything about over 50 per cent of their roster once they debut on cable television on Wednesday. It’s hard to feel optimistic about Impact, MLW, and ROH’s chances of getting attention while these two companies slam heads with each other. It’s hard to feel optimistic about NJPW having their ambulance canceled before a show in New York.
Maybe I’m being pessimistic and should be excited for what the future holds. But we often forget that the then World Wrestling Federation didn’t beat World Championship Wrestling in the Monday Night War with a superior product that stands the test of time. Most of “Raw is War” today is unwatchable garbage that needs to be edited into short clips to be watchable. But they weren’t as bad as WCW’s Monday Nitro, which was never content with just tripping and falling, but had to also set themselves on fire as a speeding train loomed in the distance. The last war wasn’t won by superior quality. It was merely lost by WCW. Entering this Wrestling War, it’s looking to be about the same. Only this time WWE has a significant head start and guaranteed money instead of the financially fraught mid nineties. Again, there is no war. It’s just WWE blowing their considerable advantages while the remaining wrestling market has a friendly fire casualty every day. Feels like once again, we won’t have a winner.