In the LOP Columns Forum, our latest writing tournament is currently underway. 16 sign-ups have been paired together in a series of randomly generated first round write-offs and been provided with 1500 words and a pre-set topic.
The tournament is King of the Columnists VII, and I am one of the writers competing.
My task was to write anywhere up to 1500 words on the topic ‘Elite.’
Below is my resultant effort. To check out more columns like this one, follow the Forums link at the top of this page and head on over to the Columns Forum to keep track of the competition. And don’t be afraid to sign up and write your own ideas down in column form too – there is no more creatively fulfilling environment in which to write about wrestling than Lords of Pain, no wrestling site more open and eager to bring new writers into the fold and no better community of writers ready and willing to help you master the craft!
– Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Best of Both Worlds Part 1
History repeats itself. This industry is cyclical. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
We all know these lines. They are spoken often, by many. They are understood less. Wrestling fans have long busied themselves wondering when the next ‘Monday Night War’ might come, when the ‘next Stone Cold’ will emerge or when the next ‘wrestling boom’ will explode into life. They do this because these things have happened before and because history repeats itself, because the industry is cyclical and because it is in heeding our history that we can learn from it.
Perhaps this is why the recent announcement on the part of ‘The Elite’ regarding the formation of a new professional wrestling organisation – All Elite Wrestling (AEW) – was met with such giddy excitement. Long have we as a collective fan base waited for the blossoming independent scene to deliver a new viable ‘competitor’ for WWE, to bring an end to Vince McMahon’s monopoly and, quite possibly, to perhaps catalyse a repetition of the past. Now we have one, and we have one with deep pockets and billionaire financial backing. It promises to be a wrestling organisation built around wrestlers, run for wrestlers and designed to reward the long-suffering professional wrestling fans of the western hemisphere who reject the McMahon-sponsored vision of ‘sports entertainment.’ It promises to be everything many feel WWE is not, nor has any intention of being again. It promises a viable alternative. It promises a repeat of history.
You may be wondering why it is I keep using what might be considered the wrong personal pronoun. What’s with all the ‘we’? I am, after all, a WWE loyalist through and through and make no attempt to hide the fact. When AEW first came to light, in fact, my initial, even instinctive reaction was to pay it little heed. This was not the first time since the demise of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) that a rival organisation was looking to get off the ground. Similarly, it was not the first time a rival organisation would attempt to offer up an alternative to a leviathan company with pockets as deep as those of an ever-expanding WWE. I must embarrassingly admit, therefore, to having harboured a degree of early contempt for the prospects of this latest project. What did it even matter that they signed Chris Jericho?
I was a fool.
I was right; but, nonetheless, I was a fool.
It cannot be denied that this is not the first time others have attempted to form a new organisation to offer a new alternative to WWE, in an industry more heavily monopolised than perhaps most others that might compare. This has all been tried before and it has all failed before too. What’s more, so much of this start-up company is, to my knowledge, untested. The nature of its beast will present challenges people may not immediately consider. There is every danger running may be attempted before anyone has so much as walked a single step. Recent signs of promise should not be read as certifiable guarantees and every grandiose statement of intent only further increases the risk of disappointment – and, with it, failure. It should never be forgotten that, even beyond the confines of the tumultuous environment of WWE, the New Daniel Bryan’s words ring true: wrestling fans really are a fickle bunch. It won’t take much for the counter-cultural appeal of the underdog to become the faded fashion of an anti-climax. Ultimately, the future can only ever be an undiscovered country.
I believe all of this to be true, though I confess I lay the cynicism on thickly. I do so purposefully, to make this point: history repeats less in the literal, more in the abstract. It is not in the emergence of a new professional wrestling organisation that we find the exciting recurrence of historical events, but rather in the affecting mindsets of those responsible for it. It is in the group of men who call themselves ‘The Elite’ that we find our past as prologue.
There was once a group of men, some decades back, who changed the course of the professional wrestling industry forever. They called themselves ‘The Kliq’ and, by 1997, exercised creative muscle in both the major wrestling organisations in the United States. If you might forgive a momentary over-simplification, it was in part through the influence of ‘The Kliq’ that the fabled Attitude Era came about, with Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall et al pushing for edgier professional wrestling unconcerned with its long-held status quo; indeed, at times, actively seeking to subvert that status quo. We might debate whether what resulted was good or bad, but the point remains it was through their unapologetic philosophy that the industry changed irreversibly.
Now history repeats itself, as another group of men, referring to themselves as ‘The Elite’, charge towards change under the banner of their own philosophy, unconcerned with the existing status quo and less intent on subverting it as they seem to be in dissolving it altogether.
Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks et al have admirably proven to be men of their word. I was one of many who met previous claims of their willingness to prioritise creative integrity over financial profitability with the same cynicism that saw me disregard AEW upon first learning of it. “Money talks,” I said to myself and to others willing to listen. I am more than prepared to humbly admit I was wrong, and have been proven as such. What has become clear is that this group of men truly are as interested in making art as they are making money and, through both, in catalysing arguably the biggest change in the professional wrestling industry since WCW folded in 2001. It is, thus, not in their creation of an alternative organisation that they pose the biggest threat to WWE, but in the creation of an alternative mindset – one that legitimises the idea that a creatively fulfilling environment is as equally important as a financially rewarding one.
That is not a bidding war WWE is well enough positioned to fight right now, meaning they would be as foolish as I feel I was in dismissing the process that ‘The Elite’ have started. Like ‘The Kliq’ before them, should Rhodes et al see their philosophy catch on then they very well may alter the industry irrevocably and Vince McMahon will need to respond. He will need to do so earnestly too. Half-measures won’t be enough. The seeking of compromised territory won’t be enough. The dictatorial relationship between his old fashioned creativity and the creativity of those who actively practice the art they love – and, in doing so, have far more intimate knowledge of it – will need to end and be replaced with a system capable of writing the kind of cheques that names like Dean Ambrose, Hideo Itami and The Revival have already started explicitly asking to be paid with.
And so it is that, suddenly, Vince McMahon’s pockets are found to be empty.
What has been revealed over the last month, and most certainly since AEW was announced and the intentions of ‘The Elite’ became clear (to pursue their dream at the expense of what we are led to believe were unprecedented contracts offered to them by WWE), is that the money is fast becoming the least important aspect of this already snowballing situation. That it is in the art this war looks to be waged takes WWE’s natural advantage and renders it irrelevant. It is there that the real danger lies.
It is a danger too. It is foolish to pretend it isn’t. If such a perceptible shift in locker room culture continues to persist then WWE will have no choice but, in the boldest fashion, move to meet it. If they don’t, if they keep scripting, if they keep micro-managing, if they keep prioritising the entitled likes of Brock Lesnar or the ageing likes of Kurt Angle or the familial likes of Shane McMahon over the contemporary talent rapidly proving WWE’s long-peddled myth of a passionless generation to be what we’ve always known it to be – hollow and without foundation – then they might very well find themselves lurching quite suddenly from an embarrassment of riches in the locker room to the wants of poverty.
History really does repeat itself, and right now the Visigoths are charging over that seventh hill. The time has never been more pressing for Vince McMahon to look long into the mirror and ask himself whether he will stop fearing the future or, instead, allow his own Rome to fall; because if history teaches us only one thing, it is that nothing can last forever.