It’s no secret that WWE has gotten painfully stale. Every single Raw and Smackdown have exactly the same elements.
We will have a long, drawn out promo to start the show, that usually sets up a completely meaningless 6-man tag match. When I watch Raw, I know that really only the only segments that matter will be at the top of each hour. I can freely fast-forward through them.
Why not? If I did actually miss something interesting, it will be replayed about a dozen times through the broadcast, and posted on their YouTube channel. Titles will rarely be defended, and even more rarely change hands. Although if it’s a non-title match, you can bet the champion is going to lose.
And as Michael Cole throws out lame buzzwords “IT’S THE BEAST IN THE BANK! THE BEAST IN THE BANK! THE BEAST IN THE BANK!” while characters supposedly based on actual people tell you that they can’t wait to absolutely rip another person apart…live this week at 7:00pm Eastern exclusively on the WWE Network!
So after watching AEW Double Or Nothing, and from the perspective of a hardcore WWE fan with only a passing knowledge of wrestling outside…what am I getting, and not getting, from AEW?
Of course understanding this was only one show, let’s do a quick examination:
I hate to sound barbaric here, but blood is important to professional wrestling. These are essentially oiled up men in their undies pretending to fight each other. It’s incredibly easy to be taken out of the moment when a mountain of a man like Braun Strowman hits somebody in the face with the
foil steel steps and it bounces off of them like a Nerf football.
I’ll be the first to admit it – I believed that AEW putting on Cody vs fucking Dustin Runnels in 2019, especially as a marquee match, was not only insane, but embarrassing. However, I was completely proven wrong. At 4.75 Bobs (they are like stars, but just way different), this was a brutal, instant classic that was better than it had any right to be.
The reason is because Dustin went old-school and brutally bladed in a way that made his father smile and say “that’th ma boy, daddeh” from the big white ring in a cloud on the sky. As Dustin gushed blood all over the mat and Cody’s blonde hair, it was the type of brutality that made us wonder if the match should even be stopped. Did Dustin go too far? Of course not. He’s a vet who knows how to tell a story.
The only way that you can get over this story of two brothers in a personal outright war for respect and dominance was to have this type of bloodshed. AEW thankfully showed they do not shy away from it. Now, like anything in wrestling and life, if every single match has a participant looking like they just starred in a Tarantino movie, it could get old very quick. But if they are smart, and save it for when it matters, this is a major selling point to AEW’s storytelling.
Just look at WWE’s “brutal” gimmick matches. I’m sorry, but Hell in a Cell, Extreme Rules (the one time of the year that they EVER get extreme!), Steel Cage Matches and the Elimination Chamber are all basically dead in the water due to the lack of blood. These matches just come off as antiseptic. Check out some classics like Triple H vs Cactus Jack, Triple H vs Batista and Shawn Michaels winning the very first elimination chamber and you will see what feels like a completely different product. The end of those matches looks like the combatants didn’t just compete, but survived their opponent, and the match type itself.
It’s not enough to WWE to simply turn off the lights in the 3rd hour of programming. They need to go all the way (all-in?) and make the 3rd hour TV-MA, at least for pay per views.
An Undercard With Great Wrasslin’
If Double or Nothing is truly an indication of the product, AEW cares about putting on truly good matches on the undercard. Maybe everything before Cody and Dustin wasn’t perfection, but they were all entertaining matches by talented performers. Even the 6-woman tag, which looked like pure death heading into it (a woman that has to be hovering near 60 and 5 other competitors that nobody ever heard of from Japan) was surprisingly entertaining.
In fact – that match, and the other tags, incorporated something that is so simple, yet so effective, that I can’t view WWE tag matches the same. Actual logic during pinfalls.
In all of these tags, whenever a tag member went for a pinfall, like a well oiled machine, the other tag members would run across the ring and block the other team’s partner from interfering. Why the fuck wouldn’t anybody do this?! How can you possibly watch a WWE tag match in the same way?
Now, the performers for AEW are another story, which I’ll get to in a bit. They simply don’t “look the part” in most cases. But their talent is undeniable. When I watch a WWE pay-per-view, I know that I am going to get their paint-by-numbers “formula”. Even what is considered a good match, like Seth Rollins vs AJ Styles at Money in the Bank (3.5 Bobs) is just formulaic. We all know what’s going to happen. Each have to get their moves in. You can check your phone for the first 10 minutes, as you know it can’t possibly end quickly. You know Seth won’t tap out to the Calf Crusher, because WWE has foolishly established that you are a complete pussy if you ever tap out to anybody. And the only drama is how many finishers will be kicked out of.
And that’s their marquee match. The undercard is full of meaningless drivel that nobody cares about, and excites no one. Every AEW undercard match felt like quality.
I know it sounds silly, but pyro matters. It looks ridiculous when Brock Lesnar does his motions at the top of the ramp, and nothing happens. Goldberg walking out without his sizzling fireworks is sacrilege. Pyro just lends an “importance” to a character. “They cared enough to set up pyro for this dude. Must be something special about him.”
I think we all remember that feeling of anticipation when the Monday Night Raw theme that we all loved and didn’t know the words to completed and the fireworks went off all around the arena. It made us feel like something special was happening, even if it all led up to Mae Young giving birth to a hand in the end.
Good on AEW for forking over the extra money for this. Although, I can’t let them off totally unscathed because Cody hitting the throne with a sledgehammer for that puff of fake smoke to come out was honestly hilariously lame and would be mocked to death if not for AEW being the darling of the internet.
Wins & Losses + a Ranking System
Now I can only speculate on this, because it was not implemented at all in Double or Nothing, but Cody has said on multiple occasions that “Wins and Losses will matter”, and I can only infer that a Ranking System would be in place.
This is something I’ve been advocating for in WWE for-fucking-ever. I had hoped we were headed there after the shitty “Smackdown Top 10” angle which was only there for a dumb Randy Orton and Bobby Roode feud that lasted 40 seconds.
Every. Single. Match. Should. Matter.
The reason I am fast-forwarding Raw like a mall security guard trying to see who stole a bottle of Aqua di Gio at Macy’s is because the matches ultimately don’t matter. Who cares who wins between Cesaro and Richochet? Why does this 6-man tag carry any importance?
Imagine, if you will, if you had rankings for each belt’s division. In the Intercontinental Rankings, Cesaro is ranking #7 overall and Ricochet is currently #10. This is interesting. If I like Ricochet, I want him to win because I want him to climb the rankings. It allows me to physically visualize how close my favorites are to an actual title shot.
I love real fighting as well and an avid fan of UFC. We love the undercard because of the ranking system. I like the idea that on Wednesday I can check and see how close Ragin’ Al Iaquinta is to a title shot. Why would I give a shit about Ragin’ Al if Dana White would just book the loser of the match for a title shot anyway?
Now, I understand why WWE is reluctant to do this. It’s because they don’t want unnecessary restrictions on their booking. If they want to wake up one day and push a total jobber to the title (Jinder Mahal in 2017, for example) they don’t want to be forced to follow a bunch of self-imposed rules they enforced on themselves creatively. I get it.
However, the actual product is suffering, and badly in need of a shake-up. If I thought the winners of this 6-man tag would all get a little bump in the rankings, maybe I’d sit down and watch it.
Also, enough of this garbage with “Alexa pinned the champ in a tag match, she gets a title shot!” Doesn’t this totally fly in the face of all logic? Why wouldn’t Alexa’s own partner, in this case, break up the pin, knowing that she would get a title shot? This is supposed to be a team. Total garbage.
Jobbers Masquerading As Superstars
And finally, we get to the area where AEW is giving me something in a negative sense that I do not get from WWE: guys who don’t look the part.
Call me brainwashed by Vince, if you will, but by my count, there are only 10 AEW Superstars who look like they belong in a WWE ring:
Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, Pac, Hangman Page, Cody, The Young Bucks, MJF (this kid really made a star out of himself with that promo during the Bret Hart segment) and Britt Baker.
WWE has 100 guys who look like they belong in the ring. Curt Hawkins is a jobber, but he looks like he belongs there.
Once you get beyond these 10, you get into Jungle Boy and Jimmy Havoc territory, who look like little boys in high school in cheap costumes they bought at Party City. It’s very easy to be taken out of immersion when these guys show up. Once the TV show starts revving up, and you’ve cycled through your feuds at the top, these guys are not going to cut it. And hopefully AEW knows that.
Overall, Double Or Nothing did a phenomenal job of presenting itself as a legitimate alternative to WWE. I won’t watch Fyter Fest or whatever it is, but whichever PPV has the Jericho vs Page match and Omega vs Moxley is going to catch my eye. How will they fare when they don’t have an all-out bloodbath or a legitimate surprise star appearance? I do not know. But for now, they’ve piqued my interest.
Something WWE struggles to do outside of R-Truth’s 24/7 title segments.