By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
Two weeks ago, watching AEW Forbidden Door, a thought struck me: I could never have imagined this big of a show featuring NJPW in the United States in 2013. Days later, as I played AEW Fight Forever for the first time on my Switch, I had a similar thought: I never thought we’d see a new wrestling game from a non-WWE entity with this fun play style. Finally, watching WWE Money in the Bank, I saw John Cena make a passionate case for WrestleMania in London and thought about how the world has changed in wrestling.
All three of these thoughts are related. All three of these ideas stem from one core idea: AEW’s place as a challenger brand in wrestling has been wildly effective and is making the wrestling world better.
Forbidden Door is my first example of this. Despite the show’s flaws, seeing a major league well produced NJPW vs. American Promotion show was impossible for years. I remember the excitement when a friend messaged me about ROH bringing NJPW talent to the US in 2014 before the official announcement. Those shows, while enjoyable, were dominated by NJPW’s stars being miles ahead of ROH’s and production issues often stood in the way of enjoying them.
AEW producing Forbidden Door and doing so with talent that feels equal in stature to NJPW’s is a major victory. It takes a ton of negotiation and give and take to put together a multi-promotion card and Tony Khan has managed to do this for two years running. The integration of NJPW and AEW seems deeper than ever right now and it’s a benefit to both promotions.
While it isn’t perfect, the AEW and NJPW co-promotion is miles ahead of any multi-promotional effort in the United States in decades.
Let’s move on from Forbidden Door to something even further from perfection, but also something that will waste more of my time: AEW Fight Forever. This game has a number of issues, but ultimately is fun. It’s playable. It’s on the Nintendo Switch, which will allow me to play no matter where I happen to be working or gaming that day.
Over twenty years after WCW’s demise (and even longer after they put out a quality game, because WCW Mayhem from EA was terrible), seeing this kind of arcade style play is just plain fun. I enjoy random exhibition matches on this game more than just about anything else.
We saw just one major challenger in pro wrestling games in the last twenty years, and it was a half baked effort from TNA that did more to disappoint than delight. Another pro wrestling game will always be a good thing. I can see notable and fun differences between the WWE 2K series and AEW Fight Forever. I can see a place for both, especially in a world where Madden NFL and NFL Blitz coexisted for a long time.
I could also see AEW’s game pushing WWE’s to be more fun and easier to pick up and play. At the same time, I can see WWE influencing AEW to deepen their creative suite and match selections. There’s a wonderful place in wrestling for both!
Finally, WWE made perhaps the greatest case that AEW as a challenger brand is pushing them to try new things. Last weekend at Money in the Bank, WWE had John Cena heavily tease the idea of WrestleMania in London. I cannot believe this was done off the cuff or coincidentally. This was an intentional tease.
For years, WWE has said it wouldn’t be possible to run a major PPV from the United Kingdom. They’ve walked that back recently and done great business overseas. The next logical step would be bringing their biggest show to one of their most rabid audiences. At the same time, WWE is seeing their largest competitor (who is still just a fraction of their size) sell 75,000 tickets and counting for a show with no matches announced.
AEW All In is already a massive success and shutting down any questions about whether a major show in the United Kingdom is viable for a U.S. based wrestling promotion. WWE does not have to experiment or run market research. They don’t have to poll every contingency. They don’t have to send out surveys. They are seeing the real time market research happen without them being involved. They know WrestleMania will be wildly successful in the UK because they see AEW having similar success.
All of this together makes the case Tony Khan has been making for four years: Wrestling was primed and ready for a major challenger brand to come along. There’s a ton of focus on competition between WWE and AEW, but honestly, WWE should be grateful for the existence of AEW. With another promotion trying new things, executing new ideas, and offering a different vision of wrestling, WWE benefits.
Thinking back to those 2014 Ring of Honor shows, where New Japan Pro Wrestling seemed so much bigger than any other promotion in the United States could be, it’s great to see how AEW has benefitted the wrestling landscape as a whole. AEW has a ton of issues (particularly on the storytelling side), but the existence of this promotion seemed unfathomable in 2014. Wrestling is a much better place now than it was.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. 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 email@example.com.