By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Armed with a big television and a pathetic Twitter account, I, much like many others within the pro wrestling internet universe, shot from the hip at about 10 p.m. EST last Wednesday. Kenny Omega had just beaten Jon Moxley for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship with a little help from his buddy Don Callis, and as AEW Dynamite came to an end, Callis said everybody would have to tune into Impact Wrestling on Tuesday to find out what comes next.
I, like I presume a whole bunch of other people who keep up with this stuff, didn’t have “Impact and AEW working together” on my 2020 bingo card, so the initial surprise was enough to get me excited on a Wednesday night. Naturally, then, I did what any other red-blooded Twitter user would do, and took to the social media platform so say nonsensical things like …
“Wowzers, this is going to be … something.”
“We might have all been waiting on New Japan, but this could be just as fun.”
As things typically go with pretty much all social media everywhere, I almost instantly regretted saying anything at all. Why? Because upon further review, I’m not so sure I can buy into this Impact/AEW relationship. The obvious reasons are there — what does AEW gain from this? Impact’s reputation has been tarnished through the years, even if you want to (rightly) say it’s an entirely different company than what it was, say, a decade ago — but the bigger, less obvious reasons run deeper.
This is what Tony Khan was talking about when he said something about the balance of power shifting in wrestling? So, you take the title off Moxley, who’s done an incredible job carrying that thing through the weirdest circumstantial era of professional wrestling, for a stunt that packs the punch of a gender reveal party, but lacks the depth for very little beyond an actual birth?
Plus, um, what’s up with New Japan?
It felt like a zillion questions came to mind once I blasted my tweets into the infinite ether that is known as The Internet. Perhaps my biggest moment of regret, however, came only a handful of seconds later, when I noticed a tweet from Callis himself …
DON’T. JUST … DON’T
“AEW screwed AEW. Hear all about it this Tuesday on Impact Wrestling on AXS TV. Thanks for the invite Tony Khan.”
Well, if I had any modicum of excitement (let alone optimism), that was flushed down the drain the minute those words hit the WiFi. Why reference a 23-year-old Vince McMahon soundbite when you’re supposed to be the cooler, more grounded, alternative wrestling option? And, for the love of all that’s good at Daily’s Place, if you’re going to do it, why pick a piece of history that has been written about, documented on and rehashed to death in the ensuing 23 years? I mean, come on.
There are only so many Montreal Screwjob documentaries to make, people.
Either way, Callis’s tweet — and subsequent tweets over the next few days — utterly took me out of the moment, and over the course of the rest of the week, almost changed my mind entirely about the decision for the two companies to work together. It’s just a little too on the nose for my taste, like the nerd in the senior class getting a date with the prom queen and then blogging about what he’s going to wear, all the while rubbing it in everyone’s faces that she chose him over the starting quarterback on the varsity football team.
But then he shows up to find she only wanted to “hang out as friends.”
Maybe that’s a little harsh, but where’s the appreciation for mystique? As I noted last week, the best parts of pro wrestling come when you can’t quite tell what’s real and what’s not. In fact, that’s precisely why people continue to beat the Montreal Screwjob story to death more than two decades after the fact. To merely even touch on that as a point of reference in the age when everyone knows everything, and very little is sacred in the professional wrestling business anymore felt not just hokey, but desperate.
And desperation, as we have come to know, is somewhat of a through-line when it comes to …
… Impact Wrestling. Maybe the best thing I read anywhere about the angle came from this very website’s leader, Jason Powell, when on his hit list for Dynamite, he offered this:
“Impact Wrestling gets involved with AEW and suddenly we get an overbooked main event. Coincidence?”
Make no mistake about it: Impact has become a reliable, if not very good, professional wrestling television show in the last 12 to 24 months. In fact, some weeks, it might be even the best on TV. But that doesn’t erase the years and years of bad reputation it earned through, as Jason noted, overbooked finishes.
Those overbooked, chaotic finishes — along with all the nonsensical “other world” supernatural nonsense — have always reeked of desperation in my mind. “Please look at us,” they are saying. “We know we don’t have the production value of WWE and it feels like we can’t book a realistic, true-to-life program on pretty much any level, but at least there are a bunch of people lying in the ring at the end of the show!”
Combining all that in a pot, it’s hard not to be just a tad bit disappointed that Moxley’s first loss in AEW comes at the expense of what actually did feel somewhat like an Impact PPV main event angle. If this means we’re in for more of that in AEW, my stomach will continue to churn until it finally squeezes out all the alcohol I’m going to have to consume while watching this stuff.
One of AEW’s strengths is, for the most part, its commitment to professional wrestling. As fans, we were tired of seeing wrestlers being hit in the head with pancakes, and AEW brought a different level of seriousness to the proceedings. The rankings (which on so many levels are a joke to begin with, but that’s another story) and the keeping of records for the wrestlers were supposed to promise us that this was going to be an athletic contest; not an extension of As The World Turns.
Yet with Impact’s involvement, it’s hard not to worry about what type of influence it might have on whatever is booked for this angle going forward. This, of course, brings me to perhaps the biggest reason I still have a bad taste in my mouth from last Wednesday.
BAIT & SWITCH
We know it. The wrestlers know it. The executives know it. If New Japan Pro Wrestling and AEW teamed up — or at least had a working agreement where angles and wrestlers from both companies could be intertwined — it would melt the modern day pro wrestling fan’s face. So, heading into Dynamite last week, we all had questions.
Who really attacked Moxley backstage a few weeks ago?
Why did KENTA tweet “What’s gonna happen on Wednesday?”
Tony Khan knows everyone wants to see it, so if he talks about changing the wrestling landscape, he’s gotta know that New Japan is the first place everyone goes to in their heads, right?
And yet, just like when Khan insinuated there would be an over-run for the AEW championship match, and just like Khan told us Orange Cassidy and John Silver would open Full Gear, and just like Cody told us he wasn’t going to reinstate his last name now that he wrangled it back from the WWE … we were worked.
Which is fine. I guess that’s what you have to do in today’s “everybody thinks they know everything” landscape. But to me, the constant pulling-out-the-rug-from underneath-ness of it all has me on the verge of go-away heat. WWE takes it on the chin all the time for not delivering what they promise to deliver, and while Khan and the execs at AEW don’t do it nearly as blatantly, or as often, as WWE does it, they still do it, albeit in a much more subtle, much more “we are working the marks” type way.
I have friends who love and respect that. Me? I’m not so sure. Even so — and no matter which side of that argument you fall on — one thing can’t be disputed: The longer certain talents tease it, and the longer we see AEW partner with brands not named “New Japan Pro Wrestling,” the more the shine will be off the trophy once it’s unveiled. It’s a boy-who-cried-wolf thing. The more we want it, and the more we don’t get it, by the time it happens, the possibility of it being met with a shoulder shrug is far higher than any of the main players want to admit.
Furthermore, if AEW becomes the hub for all wrestling companies to work a deal with, at what point do these things become less special? The partnership with the NWA continues to be a neat wrinkle in their programming because the NWA has lineage and in essence, the NWA champ (man or woman) would do 50 years ago what he or she is doing now: Travel the territories (or, well, in 2020, I guess that just means AEW) and defend the belt. Plus, Thunder Rosa and Serena Deeb, alone, are leaps and bounds above most of the women in AEW’s women division anyway. It’s a win-win.
With Impact, though? That’s a different story.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, we ought to say out loud the dirty secret that hovers over this development: Really? Impact?
Ring of Honor would have been compelling because nobody knows what the hell is going on with Marty Scurll these days, and we all know his history, both with The Elite, and the accusations made against him as part of the #speakingout movement. Shoot, even MLW would have been neat simply because of two words: Alexander Hammerstone. But, Impact?
With all the talent that ended up there as a result of this year’s WWE roster cuts, Impact, at times, feels like a long episode of WWE Main Event on the WWE Network. Sure the company has worked hard to outrun its past — and as I said earlier, it’s doing a pretty good job achieving that — but it’s still got a long way to go. Remember: We aren’t even six months removed from “Wrestle House.”
I’m sorry, but Don Callis could come out Tuesday night and deliver the promo of his life and Kenny Omega could go 60 minutes with Rich Swann for a 15-star classic, but I’m still not buying these two companies as being the collaboration that turns the wrestling world on its head. Impact just isn’t there yet. Not only does it have a rebranding mountain to climb, but it also has a trust issue to fix with wrestling fans.
And that, really, is the true crime here: It’s too soon.
Just when Impact was starting to really gain traction in winning some of the wrestling world back, this partnership forces the hand at a speed that overshoots its current-day welcome. Wait a couple more years, continue to rehab the company, continue to put on good shows, weed out more of the bad, and then try something like this. Right now? Everything feels forced.
And you really don’t have to look much further than Callis’s tweet to understand that.
Well, so here we are. What’s done is done. There are reports that Omega’s appearance on Impact this week will only be a one-off, and that this will only really lead to The Good Brothers coming over to AEW for a match or two. I have also read that Callis’s contract with Impact is up soon, and he’s looking to make the jump, full-time, to AEW, presumably to manage Omega. Still, with AEW’s track record of working the fans in mind, it’s awfully hard to predict what’s actually going to happen with any of this.
Either way, the further I get away from last Wednesday, the more convinced I am that this is much ado about nothing. In the moment, it was surprising — most so because it made us all internally scream, “We should have saw this coming!” — but as far as residual effects, it’s hard to think this is going to go down in history as one of the moments that changed everything forever.
If anything, what this serves as most is an indictment on the entirety of the professional wrestling world in 2020. As fans, we are starved to see something new, fresh and intriguing, so at the first glimpse of anything that we think might be able to bring us that, we act as though it’s Scott Hall coming through the crowd for the first time on WCW Monday Nitro. In short, we, perhaps petulantly, are craving for something to shake things up — even though AEW did just that less than two years ago when it announced its arrival.
So, yes. We’ve been spoiled, what with the introduction of an entirely new big league company so fresh. And to be fair, criticisms of this angle put the cart before the horse because like it’s always been in wrestling, we should wait and see what happens before we confirm judgement. Still, I, for one, am going to proceed with cautious eyes.
And in the end, perhaps Callis will be right. AEW will have screwed AEW — just not for the reasons he presumably implied.