Day 264: A Tale Of Two Products [Wrasslin’ For Lunch]
I never fancied myself to be a sports writer. The news cycle on it is much too short for blogging purposes. I would spend all day plugging away at something and by the time I hit “Publish”, it would be irrelevant. The same goes for Sports Entertainment. While I had a relevant think-piece lined up for last Wednesday, breaking news caused me to change course completely. So I’ll attempt to write about the subject now. It may seem irrelevant now, but it’s not irrelevant in my heart. Getting back into wrestling has unlocked a different part of my brain, one that gets worked up and goes on rants. And I’m not going to lie, I miss that part of me. So I’m going to let him run free every Wednesday, despite the timeliness of the subject matter. And I’m going to start it off with a tremendously obvious statement:
I had a blast watching AEW Double Or Nothing.
Every minute of the show caught my attention. Pound for pound, they built the most solid card possible and crammed more special moments into it that I can count on my hands. This was, by far, the most fun I had watching wrestling since I was a kid. Mainly because it made me feel like a kid again. It had me fooled, it had me shout, it had me sing, it almost made me cry. They crammed 5,200 people into Daily’s Place and they put on such a spectacle. It sounded like they had sold out The Garden. Having a “capacity” crowd made the event all the more special and they made sure that the event was special for the “capacity” crowd. The day after, I was still riding on a high from it. I felt like the Dodgers won the World Series again. I felt validated for picking up this strange hobby. Wrestling was, for a moment, the best. And I’m going to continue this with a tremendously obvious statement:
I did not have a blast watching WWE Monday Night Raw.
All of the goodwill that the wrestling gods bestowed to me evaporated within minutes. Wrestling once again felt like a chore. It was another week of “more of the same”. Three full hours of the same shit we saw the week before, featuring the same exact people, despite the fact that they’re only utilizing a little more than half of their active roster. The entire show has become a black hole of entertainment. Even when there is a good match, which does happen occasionally, it feels like it’s done in spite of itself. For example, last week it was obvious that they didn’t have enough material to fill the full 3 hours. So they let Drew Mcintyre and Kofi Kingston go as long as they wanted. What followed was a 22 minute main event that was actually halfway decent. And sadly, we have to consider this special instead of standard. Meanwhile, AEW always makes sure to open every episode of Dynamite with a marquee match.
Overall, my experience watching Raw made me feel disgusted in myself that I would waste my time on such a heartless product. In the span of 24 hours, I felt the highest highs and the lowest lows. Rachel and I decided that it will be best for our mental health to stop watching Raw. As much as I want to follow what happens with RKBro, it’s not worth my time and mental anguish. I’ll still catch them on the PPVs, as Smackdown is still a generally “okay” product. But how did it get to this? Wrestling is wrestling, how are these two products so starkly different?
To put it in the most simple terms: AEW is actually trying.
Just think of all the things they did for us in Double Or Nothing. They gave us a 4 star match in the pre-show. Tony Khan bought the rights to X’s cover of “Wild Thing”, because he knew it would make for the most epic moment as soon as fans could be there to sing it. Go back and look at the face of Eddie Kingston every time the crowd chanted his name. This was a man that just a year ago was on the verge of giving up altogether and now he’s one of the most over wrestlers in the business. The Casino Battle Royale might’ve been a mess, but the ending made up for all of it. They put Jungle Boy, a homegrown underdog talent, over on the likes of Christian Cage and Matt Hardy. And they let him stay out there and have his moment. You had the 62 year old Sting go out there and do a competent match. This wasn’t your typical “let the geezers wrassle” bullocks that we’re all so accustomed to. Sting actually gave it his all and the crowd went into a fever pitch. The whole thing almost didn’t seem real. Just like wrestling should be. And then in the triple threat match, they had everyone fooled. While we all knew deep down that Kenny Omega was going to retain, they created a moment where it seemed 100% likely that Orange Cassidy was the new AEW Champion. They manufactured a Mick Foley moment and then took it away from us, because they just wanted us to have a taste. They wanted us to know that they’re willing to shock us. And the night was capped off with the entire venue singing “Judas”. You can hate Chris Jericho and his stupid band all you want, this was an amazing moment. One that’s going to stick with me for the rest of my life. This will be known as the moment that marked the end of the pandemic era.
Now…when was the last time WWE made you feel this way?
When was the last time WWE actually surprised you? It seems like everything they do is telegraphed from a mile away. Meanwhile, AEW is going well out of their way to surprise you. Just look at the signing of Mark Henry. This was kept as a well-guarded secret. Nobody in the business knew about it. Not even Mark Henry’s co-workers at Busted Open. They kept it wrapped up just so everyone could have the same reaction when Tony Shiavone introduced, “The World’s Strongest Man”. And it’s not like it’s a huge signing. He won’t be doing that much, nor do they expect him to. But they wanted to give us this little treat, because frankly, they’re trying.
And that’s what it boils down to. Vince McMahon hasn’t had to try in over 20 years. All he has to do is the bare minimum to keep wrestling relevant. He bought up all the competition so that he didn’t have to try anymore. We were doomed to watch his product because we liked wrestling and for all intents and purposes, he owned “wrestling”. Meanwhile, AEW is gaining ground because they’re doing everything that the WWE isn’t and they’re doing it on an accessible platform. The ratings are slowly gaining ground. Vince even decided to move NXT to Tuesday nights just to get out of their way. Tony Khan and friends have built this company from the ground up and go out of their way to thank the fans and show them their appreciation. All the WWE ever does is say, “You’re welcome”.
While I’ve decided to stop watching Raw, at the same time I picked AEW Dark back up. While I’m wondering why I’m paying $9.99 a month for Peacock, I was more than happy to purchase [err, go half on [thanks, Mike]] Double Or Nothing. It’s because they earned my money just as much as they earned my attention. I honestly wish I could give them more money, because it’s a product that I whole-heartedly love and believe in. But instead, I’ll just write 1000+ word gush pieces that go absolutely nowhere.
And in closing, what exactly happened on the first episode of Raw during my boycott? The “main event” featured a demonic doll stalking Shayna Baszler. Looks like I made a good decision.