By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime) – Photo Credit: AEW
The first wrestling tribute show I ever watched was the Owen Hart episode of Raw. It’s burned into my memory over 20 years later as pre-teen me saw wrestler after wrestler pour their heart out onscreen remembering their friend and processing their grief. At the time, I knew this was a powerful medium and a powerful expression of grief and pain. I had no idea it would become a genre of wrestling show and I’m deeply saddened that it has.
Now, we come to the latest entry in this genre, All Elite Wrestling’s Celebration of Life for Brodie Lee (AKA Luke Harper, real name Jon Huber). Not only was this a remarkable celebration of Lee’s legacy, it was the first such show produced by the start up wrestling company. AEW produced something truly special celebrating Brodie Lee’s accomplishments onscreen and off while also providing wrestlers, fans, and most importantly The Huber Family remarkable moments of catharsis.
Wrestling is a beautiful art form capable of capturing human emotion and imagination better than almost any other. All Elite Wrestling showed us how to serve multiple masters and, a rarity for corporate wrestling, put the grieving family before anyone else. This was the best and most emotional wrestling show AEW has ever produced. Hopefully it’s also the last such show they ever make.
The central focus of the show, and the screen, as Dynamite began was The Huber Family. The ten bell salute was chilling in its simplicity and effectiveness. Again, we arrive at the tragedy of these moments being a tradition in wrestling, particularly when a wrestler dies before their time. We literally saw the roster of AEW surrounding the family, comforting them, and encouraging them. A hard moment shared onscreen and given to the fans as a way to acknowledge their loss as well.
Following the salute, cutting to AEW’s best communicator with their fans, Jon Moxley, to offer words of grief, comfort, and encouragement provided a beautiful touch. Moxley’s words were carefully chosen, his eyes hidden, his soul laid bare. As fans searched for answers and outlets for their emotions, Moxley pointed to the community of pro wrestling. Behind and in front of the curtain, Moxley described this community at its best, offering hope to those feeling disconnected.
The matches on this show were not normal matches. They were bursts of energy amongst the grief. They were also breaks from the tears and sadness, even for those participating. As a performer, I know sometimes you forget yourself in the moment of performance. Your conscious brain leaves you and your instinct kicks in. It is an odd place. You don’t want to forget your grief, but you put it on the back burner. Every match on these shows had these moments, where the professionals we look to for joy and entertainment did just what we rely on them for. Then there was the moment we saw their grief come rushing back, as the matches ended and the adrenaline rush subsided, we saw them point to the sky saluting Brodie.
As I said before, this show was focused on The Huber Family, and particularly focused on Brodie Lee Jr (-1), Huber’s eight year old son. Reading story after story this week, the younger Lee was a fixture in wrestling locker rooms over the last few years. Watching wrestlers who love this kid and his father perform, in many instances, just for him was joyous. I couldn’t imagine anything worse for an eight year old than losing a parent. Feeling a community rally around you in this moment of grief must be comforting.
MJF’s performance antagonizing -1 until the child hit him with a kendo stick stands out as a particularly joyful moment. We all laughed through the tears and celebrated the stiff shot from the eight year old.
The appearance of Erick “Rowan” Redbeard (and Chris Jericho’s insistence on not forgetting WWE’s intellectual property on commentary) was a beautiful surprise. This was not just a tribute to Brodie Lee’s seven month career in AEW, but a tribute to his entire career and life as a professional wrestler. AEW did not pretend his time in WWE didn’t exist, showing photos from WWE wrestlers in the final tribute video, talking freely about WWE tours, and not forcing weird language onto tributes. Erick Redbeard has never appeared in AEW, but they know their fans know him and would love this cathartic moment.
Finally, watching the clearly emotional President of AEW, Tony Khan, hand -1 the TNT Championship as the child retired his father’s boots in the ring is an image that will stick with me for life. This was everything, tribute, love letter to the family, a rallying cry for a community, and most importantly, the right thing to do.
All Elite Wrestling produced the best possible version of the wrestling tribute show last night. It broke my heart. It made me laugh. It brought closure to what was an awful situation. I pray they’re never in the position to do this again.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.