By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
“What I love about this show is it really is all-access. It goes into wrestling and what goes into making a wrestling show, but it goes into us as wrestlers and people. It humanizes us. I hope it shows the brutality and how wrestling hurts. … I hope we add a little more respect to the pro wrestling business.”
Those words came from Britt Baker to TV Insider as she and Adam Cole did press for AEW All Access, the TBS six-episode reality series that only finished airing recently. Baker and Cole are ostensibly the stars of the show, so it made sense that when the series first began airing, those two would be front and center to promote it. Plus, let’s be honest: They are one of pro wrestling’s It Couples. Even when they worked for different companies, they found a way to keep fans invested in their couple-dom (lest we not forget the “It’s Adam Cole’s girlfriend!” exclamation that popped out during an NXT show some years ago).
I only got around to watching those six episodes this past weekend – and even that was thanks to an unexpected, weirdly difficult ironman match I’m currently having with COVID-19 (but I thought it was over?!). If I wasn’t banished to isolation in my apartment, I’m not sure I would have ever caught up with the show. But I did, and in a lot of ways, I’m glad it worked out that way. Not because of the COIVD; rather, it’s because watching a reality series like that in the wake of everything that happened last week in AEW Land sure does put a unique spin on things.
First, the show itself. If you’re like the majority of wrestling fans out there and didn’t catch all the episodes, let me be the first to tell you that “AEW All Access” is exactly what you think a show named “AEW All Access” would be. The most generic reality tropes are there. Who’s friends with whom? Who’s not friends with whom? Is a career coming to an end? Look at the drama! Oh, AEW is such a great place to work. Isn’t Tony Khan the best? Could the fans possibly cheer us again? I’ve been an underdog my whole life and I’m so grateful to be here now!
Those are all innocuous statements, yet they all apply to those six hours of television. Cole and Baker were assigned the role of Couple To Root For. Baker, who always somehow feels three feet away from honest emotion, plays the loving girlfriend well, rooting for Cole at every turn and trying her best to look worried when the cameras all but beg her to do so. Cole, much like his reputation is in real life, comes across as someone impossible not to root for. That 1,000-watt smile, those clear blue eyes and that Aww-shucks-disposition feel more real than anything else on the show. The A Story of the series seems to be his comeback earlier this year and that’s with good reason – Baker and Cole are the biggest stars “All Access” could get and the drama of his ability to come back fits perfectly with the reality television formula (especially considering how he, you know, eventually came back).
The other players are bit players to various degrees. Nobody gets more screen time than Sammy Guevara, with his wife, Tay Melo coming in at a close second. The first half of the season finds Melo whining because she’s not being used enough while the second half shifts that narrative to Guevara (even though he’s actually being used and is actually getting on TV fairly consistently). Guevara is probably the show’s biggest conundrum because in kayfabe, he’s supposed to be hated, but here, he so desperately wants to be recognized as The Next Big Thing. Actually, scratch that. He wants to be recognized as Right Now’s Big Thing, which makes things obnoxious when he goes on about how much he’s loved wrestling and how hard he’s worked to get to this spot. He’s 29 years old. When AEW started, he was barely 25.
Get to your 30s and let’s talk.
Guevara’s wife, Melo, eventually finds herself in a weirdly staged confrontation with Ruby Soho in the aftermath of Melo breaking Soho’s nose, and that’s the clip that seems to be most associated with the show. Soho feigns anger once she finally makes it back from the injury and warns Melo that if she does it again, they’ll “have a problem.” Melo doesn’t quite know how to respond to her in the moment (and don’t worry, Tay, neither did I). In the meantime, animosity and resentment is supposed to fester but it … just doesn’t?
I’m sorry but a two-episode arc that culminates in the tag-team street fight those two participated in on Rampage a few months ago just doesn’t muster the friction producers wanted it to and that’s for two reasons. One, it’s hard to think you’d let someone pile-drive you through a table if you didn’t trust them to protect you. And two, the big story to come out of that match, if you remember, was how Willow Nightingale wildly over-shot Anna Jay while trying to powerbomb her through a table, thus leaving us all to say a prayer for Jay’s future in pro wrestling. Soho and Melo, meanwhile, took a backseat. Who’s the one with a problem now?
The only other story of consequence comes in the form of the Young Bucks and their quest to come back from being suspended … for something they can’t talk about (Brawl Out). Which then stifles any regular wrestling fan’s interest because whatever it is they can’t talk about (Brawl Out), is the only thing they want to hear about. So while that thing (Brawl Out) hovers around the first few times the Bucks are on screen, the viewing experience is more and more cumbersome because it becomes more and more clear that the thing (Brawl Out) will never be discussed. Anyway, they try to manufacture drama out of the fact that sometimes people boo them and sometimes people cheer them, which is so odd for a show set against a pro wrestling backdrop (I say with a straight face … OK, no I don’t). But then, wouldn’t you know it: The Bucks get their trios titles back and live happily ever after while that California crowd unsurprisingly cheers them.
And … season.
If you missed it, you didn’t much, but it’s that last bit that bleeds into everything from last week. The much-anticipated announcement of AEW’s Saturday show, Collision, was finally … well … announced, but the biggest piece to it wasn’t. That piece? CM Punk. Depending on what reports you believe, there was a story going around that at one point, Punk was slated to dominate a lot of the promotional materials tied to the Collision announcement and the company even booked Chicago’s United Center for the show’s first episode, leaning back into the CM Punk Is God approach that did so well by them a year and a half ago. But something, somewhere, somehow got twisted up in the interim and at the last minute, we got a press release touting the likes of Miro, Andrade El Idolo, and others, and a poster with a dominant image that portrayed Orange Cassidy and MJF rather than the aforementioned Punk.
As such, what should have been a celebratory day for AEW led by the announcement of a brand new live block of programming on TNT turned into yet another event overshadowed by some type of discord. The news was not “Hey, Collision is coming!” Instead, the news was, “Oh, yeah, another show … and wait, what’s CM Punk’s problem again?” No matter the spectacle, no matter the good intentions and no matter the optimism that could be cultivated from a step forward in both expansion and reach, something involving CM Punk got in the way of the fun and for the most part, stole the bulk of the headlines.
Now, let’s at least establish this: To some degree, I could be labeled as a CM Punk sympathizer. I don’t say that because I took sides in the wake of Brawl Out; I say that because we all have our moments. There are better ways in better settings to do what he did and say what he said after 2022’s All Out, but sometimes the tea spills over the top of the mug and we’ve all got to deal with how to clean it up. Emotions get the best of us, frustrations boil, we make mistakes, we learn, we move forward, so on and so forth. I don’t necessarily know if Punk has taken that position in the months since that fateful night in September, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s all to say, don’t count me amongst those who believe the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega were never at fault for whatever happened last year, and CM Punk acted out in an unforgivable, unprofessional manner. We’ve all been unprofessional. Let’s not throw stones.
But … man. When is enough, enough?
I’m not entirely sure where to assign blame in this latest chapter of AEW turmoil, but I do know that at some point, something’s gotta give. AEW can’t keep having some of its bigger moments overshadowed by one single entity in the company. AEW also can’t allow someone or something to make or break Big Deal decisions on a whim like this and still believe the company can grow. Part of growing is celebrating the good and building from it. Last week’s announcement should have been a building block toward putting Brawl Out fully behind the company as it moves forward into more exciting ventures. Instead, we got this bizarre half-announcement about where some of the Collision tapings will take place over the next few months while teasing yet another – yet another! – announcement, supposedly set for this week, about where the first one will be held. I don’t care if Tony Khan and CM Pink appear on Dynamite this Wednesday holding hands and promising everyone a lifetime’s supply of ice cream bars – the company’s one attempt to reset after that catastrophe in September just had all the piss taken out of it because … a disagreement over Ace Steel?
Maybe. Or, at least that’s what some reports are claiming. Either way, I can’t help but think about how disorganized this makes the company look. It’d be easy to jump on Khan for not having better control over these types of things, but Punk is such a tricky case. He moved the needle when he arrived in AEW. Ratings were up, merchandise was selling, and box offices were more lucrative than ever. If this was Angelico (all due respect to Angelico), that guy would be on the phone, begging for independent promotions to give him some work after getting kicked to the curb for mucking a mainstream company up like this. Punk is different. Superstars have different rules and Punk falls under the superstar umbrella.
But to what end? Is this a matter of Tony Khan not wanting to rock the boat with Punk in hopes that he’ll return? Is this Punk gaslighting the company and moving the goalposts each chance he gets? Is Tony Khan really this much of a pushover? Or has he been charmed into thinking that everything could be worked out, only to find that Punk is going to consistently remind him who the real boss is? It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: It sure is hard to believe Vince McMahon would let this kind of stuff happen. If that guy goes out of his way to book a venue in anticipation of a talent returning to action after months and months of internal strife and then at the last second, the talent forces the company to tinker with the optics of the announcement – so much so that he can’t even announce where the debut show will happen – I’m not so sure that said talent would have a job for much longer.
Still, I’m aware that such a comparison in this context isn’t entirely fair. Nobody knows the ins and outs of all that’s happened since Brawl Out. Everyone involved has hid behind the “legal reasons” excuse. And over the last eight or nine months, we, as fans, have received information in drips and drabs, more often than not from someone or something that has an agenda. At this point, though, it’s become nearly impossible to think harmony has been restored within the main players of that company. And hell, even if it had been, the botch of the Saturday night show announcement last week suggests that at best, they’re dealing with a one step forward, two steps back situation, while at worst … well at worst, it’s just chaos.
Which brings me back to “AEW All Access.” Say what you want about the quality of the show, but a harmless short miniseries like that could have so clearly helped repair the image of all that’s going on behind closed doors. Nobody expected revelations to be had, but it’s safe to say that at a minimum, it could have restored the narrative that AEW is one, big happy family. Everyone loves TK. Everyone gets along (except Tay Melo and Rubo Soho, I say as I roll my eyes). It’s a fun place to be with good people who care about each other. And while they continued to chicken out on “Brawl Out” details, “All Access” could have been a valuable step toward some type of perceived normalcy that fans of AEW could digest.
But now, that’s gone, too. Because now, instead of it being a throwaway make-good product that could have calmed some nerves, it’s just another piece of throwaway reality television that has no bearing on a public perception that consistently gets overshadowed by one, Mr. Phil Brooks. Even I, someone who enjoys petty drama and will never grow out of a teenage appreciation for what so many derisively call The Dirt, am starting to feel like this is getting old. Fish or cut bait, guys.
AEW, in its young existence, can’t afford all these mishaps, misgivings and misunderstandings. I don’t care if you’re way out on the edge of logic and think this whole saga is a work; at this point, the joke isn’t funny anymore. Get your shit together, AEW, or risk being pigeonholed as just another wrestling company that has the blind leading the blind. You’re supposed to be better than this. That’s why the masses believed in you. The more the discord continues, the more tired it gets.
So, yeah, Britt. I understand you were trying to “add a little more respect to the pro wrestling business,” with “All Access,” as you told TV Insider. And maybe, had some cards fallen in different directions, in some warped way, you could have done just that. But as CM Punk proved last week, respect in the wrestling business has little to do with reality TV and everything to do with just plain, old reality. And right now, AEW’s predominant reality appears to be loaded with conflict, friction, aggression and disagreement.
The worst part? Weirdly enough, it’s not even making for good television anymore.
Lmao, I bet you LOVED total divas though, if it was WWE All Access with all the same cast, it’d probably be “harmless fun!” The bias on this website is actually pretty terrible and this is coming from someone who loves WWE just as much if not more than AEW
We have people who accuse us of AEW bias. We have people who accuse us of WWE bias. It’s just such a lazy accusation. Here’s the truth. I enjoy whatever form of pro wrestling is entertaining me . Sometimes that’s AEW. Sometimes that’s WWE. Sometimes that’s Impact, MLW, NXT, NJPW, etc. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Sometimes it’s none of the above. I’ve done this for 25 years. I call it as I see it, plain and simple. Colin is no different or I wouldn’t have him writing for the site.
As I’ve pointed out before, Colin, the guy you are labeling as biased, once drove from Maryland to Jacksonville early in the pandemic because he enjoyed AEW and wanted to see it in-person at Daily’s Place. Does that really seem like a guy who is anti-AEW to you?
Final thought. Don’t call a show All Access and then dance around the main issue that fans want to know about without expecting some viewer frustration.
Tony Khan really needs to nail things down prior to announcing the latest big announcement. That’s just common sense.
As you wrote, all the rumors about Punk’s participation were just rumors, so how can anyone blame Punk for lesser wrestling sites shipping him with Collision?
I read another report that said Ace had quietly been rehired and has been working backstage.
Again, it comes back to Khan. Set the table before you invite the guests in!
AND, not everything is a world changing announcement.
It would have been a nice surprise to have Renee announce, in the middle of the Dynamite, that AEW is adding a new show called Collision, with X premiere date. And it takes place where AEW first took place, Chicago, so buy tickets now.
Sometimes simple is best.