REQUESTING FLYBY: It’s A Curious Time To Be A Wrestling Fan

Greetings dear readers; it’s been a while since you’ve had a solo column from me, though hopefully you enjoyed my collaborations with Doc and Sir Sam in the mean time, as well as the weekly podcast I contribute to alongside Mazza and Samuel ‘Plan, The Right Side Of The Pond. Truthfully, after an engaging start to the year in WWE, from the Rumble all the way to Wrestlemania, we have fallen into a familiar pattern of baffling creative and unwatchable television, with increasingly bizarre “innovations” such as two out of three falls matches to avoid wrestling during breaks, and the hated “wildcard rule” which essentially makes the brand split entirely pointless. Add in a large dose of Shane McMahon, The Undertaker coming back just because he fancied wrestling Drew McIntyre, and talents like Sasha Banks actively agitating against the company on social media, and it’s been a difficult product to comment on without sounding like generic negative internet guy #9922.

After many years of being lectured to about branching out and trying other products, the creative lull in WWE and the buzz around AEW has finally inspired me to do so. The turning point for me was when AEW announced their partnership with ITV in the United Kingdom, where, of course, I happen to live. For context, ITV is the largest commercial broadcaster in the UK, and is a free to air network to boot, meaning that the AEW television show, when it starts in October, will air for free on ITV2. Not only that, it was announced that Double Or Nothing would be available on ITV Box Office for a very reasonable £15. Therefore, that weekend I dived straight in and ordered the show, watching it on the Sunday morning. And I absolutely loved it; from the opening six man tag between Strong Hearts and SCU to the epic twist of Jon Moxley debuting with a spectacular attack on Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho. Sure, there was some sag in the middle with that mediocre tag match between Best Friends (who I cannot stand) and Angelico/Evans and the six person women’s tag, but overall it was an intelligently booked pro wrestling show which understood what it wanted to achieve to sell the new brand. The bloody brother vs brother match made a mockery of WWE’s decision to never book that pairing on the grand stage, and the clever way in which the process of crowning of the first ever AEW champion has been patiently constructed is also a massive plus point.

Having watched Fyter Fest, and having ordered but not yet got around to watching Fight For The Fallen, what really stands out about AEW is the logical progression of angles with good old fashioned pro wrestling tropes that have stood the test of time. The brothers go to bloody war, but the heat of battle forges them back into a team. The outsider Moxley crashes the party of Double Or Nothing and takes out the two biggest names in the company, only for Omega to get his own back one pay-per-view later at the conclusion of Mox’s match with Janela. Jericho is still waiting for his thank you, and will meet Hangman Page for the right to be AEW’s first ever world champion, a belt that was invested with gravitas by being unveiled by Bret Hart. Even the lower card material has been sensibly handled, with the beef between Strong Hearts and SCU branching into a singles match between Daniels and Cima. I wouldn’t say there’s been a “classic” match on any AEW show I’ve seen thus far, but they’re doing the basics extremely well, and that’s good enough for me, especially with their weekly show coming up in October with a well hyped (and stacked) first episode in the offing. Typical deluded Vince came out to play in his Q2 earnings conference call last week when he stated that he felt competition is good for everyone and made a dismissive reference to “blood and guts”, without actually naming AEW. As Cody has come out and said since, the arrogance of the man who thinks he’s bullet proof was in full display there.

You see, while AEW have sensibly set themselves up with a strong base to begin competing, WWE are still afflicted by most of the same issues they’ve had since Wrestlemania. Bizarre roster positioning, repetitive matches and booking (the whole Summerslam card looks to be one big rematch-a-mania), inability to utilise a talented roster effectively, and unwatchable television cursed by endless Vince rewrites at the zero hour. Having heard what Jon Moxley had to say about the creative process in WWE, it really isn’t surprising that the product is haemmorhaging long term fans in the way that it is. For everyone, the straw that breaks the camel’s back is a different thing. Just last week, our very own Samuel ‘Plan dropped out of the current product and is now watching back catalogue, following our very own Doc getting to a similar point last autumn. These are two of the most committed WWE fans I have ever known. That they have been driven away is hugely telling to me. Personally, I am clinging on, but am only watching pay-per-views, with both Stomping Grounds and Extreme Rules turning out to be surprisingly enjoyable shows which outperformed low expectations. The roster is so talented that it always seems to be able to do that, but sooner or later, the television has to match up or there’s simply no direction, and it remains to be seen whether the hiring of Heyman and Bischoff is going to change much in that regard, given that Vince has the final say over everything. Perhaps with the XFL on the horizon, we can look towards a future where McMahon is not micromanaging everything. But that could well be wishful thinking.

This is Maverick, requesting flyby.

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