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The Paradox of the Wrestling War in 2021

The IWC has been talking about a certain Friday Night and what numbers matter. Tommy Starr chimes in with his perspective on this “war”.

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“War is peace… freedom is slavery… ignorance is strength.”  These are among George Orwell’s key three slogans in his novel 1984, which exemplify the ideology that when one has the power to lull individuals into false senses of security, they will blissfully ignore truth and reality to serve a perpetual agenda.

Since the inception of AEW, wrestling media has insisted on this idealistic narrative of a born-again “Monday Night Wars” comparative to that of a bygone era of professional wrestling that has not been seen since and will never be seen again.  For one reason or another, modern wrestling fans have bought into this impractical religious doctrine hook, line, and sinker, despite statistical evidence that contradict this ideology.

To put this in perspective, if there is a genuine wrestling “war” in the wrestling market today, it is not merely a war of the companies of AEW vs. WWE, rather it is a frivolous war between the oppositional fans of AEW and WWE.  The center of authority that continues to drive this animosity amongst the opposing fan bases rests at the helm of the wrestling media and the individuals within the business itself.  The manipulative narrative of the wrestling media and wrestlers in the business have managed to perpetrate a falsified creed that AEW and WWE are “at war.”  It is interesting to note that this blanket statement hedges the particular element of what both companies are at war with. The common implication is the war of competition, particularly competition for viewership.  And while this narrative carries some validity, it misses the key detail of what this abstractive war revolves around.  It is a waging fight among AEW and WWE fans to try and claim superiority over the other, despite the apparent truth that both sides are failing to expand beyond their niche audiences.  Hence, neither party can credibly claim any form of superiority.  In essence, this religious irrationality to suggest that one company is directly “winning” over the other continues to miss the essential endgame of what winning a war truly looks like.

In the business world, “smart companies” understand and invest in long-term strategies of acknowledging that when they lose small battles, they allow their opposition to enjoy those smaller victories; meanwhile, they do not allow those battle losses to obstruct their long-standing progress.  So contextually, AEW would be wiser to accept that their Friday night edition of Rampage show running head to head with SmackDown lost in overall viewership numbers by approximately 288,000 viewers, despite the fact that not only was SmackDown running on a different network due to Fox coverage of the 2021 American League Championship Series, but that AEW Rampage had actually gained viewership from the previous week by about 15.14%.  Instead, wrestling media continues to propagate that overall viewership is subordinate to what truly matters in this equation, that being the key male 18-49 demographic.  What this discounts is that when one analyzes actual numbers, both shows essentially tied in the target 18-49 demographic at a 0.24.

A strategic business owner obsessed with “winning wars” understands his opposition’s leader and avoids engaging in projecting irrational and petty beliefs in order to stir up his or her army.  Rather, it would be wiser to quietly and cautiously observe the opposition’s decision-making to effectively counter-program and capture the attention of potential consumers.  This does not bode well for Tony Khan when he engages in social media warfare with the opposition to try and stoke a fire that merely exists in a metaphorical fantasy.  All the while, the rival niche audiences partake in nonsensical arguments over which organization “won” a war that has not, does not, and will not exist, despite a genuine hope that professional wrestling will ever reach that level of popularity again worth necessitating a war.

A true and authentic wrestling war in today’s culture should be the fight to reassemble a lost and/or new audience. Per discussion of a lost audience, that insinuates both parties fight for the admiration and trust of disgruntled audiences that have since tuned the product off from their habitual consumption.  Arguably, this can be seen as a lost cause, considering most of these wrestling fans have long since distanced themselves from professional wrestling. However, a business that can successfully earn back that trust of disassociated consumers is a fruitful investment. Catering to loyal and clinging fan bases may be short-term goals, but they are not expansive business strategies.  And based on the weekly viewership numbers, ratings, and key demos for both parties, AEW and WWE continue to cater short-term appeal to their niche audiences instead of investing in long-term strategic outreach to new audiences.  The art of mastery on this level is a war worth fighting for.

Sources:

  • Casey, C. (2021, October 18). Who won Friday night’s ratings battle between WWE smackdown and AEW Rampage? WWE. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://comicbook.com/wwe/news/wwe-smackdown-aew-rampage-oct-15-ratings-war-who-win-tied-demographic-smackdown-wins-audience/.
  • Feloni, R. (2014, August 14). 33 war strategies that will help you win in business. Business Insider. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/war-strategies-to-win-in-business-2014-8.
  • Thurston, B. (2021, January 15). Key demo and total audience: What are they and how much do they matter? Wrestlenomics. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://wrestlenomics.com/2020/07/14/key-demo-and-total-audience-what-are-they-and-how-much-do-they-matter/#:~:text=With%20a%20new%20head%2Dto,advertisers%20to%20the%20programs’%20networks.


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Steve Cook’s Fave Five: November 2021

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It’s Thanksgiving week, and you know what that means!

This is the time we give thanks for our favorite professional wrestlers. And other things, I’m sure. Many of you reading this have other things to be thankful for. I don’t know what those are, but I do know which wrestlers I’m thankful for here at this moment. Let’s dive into the Fave Five!

5. Eddie Kingston

As somebody that was into the independent wrestling scene back in the mid-2000s, I’ve been aware of Eddie Kingston’s existence for a long time. I’ve known that the man was a better talker than almost anybody in the wrestling business. I’ve also known that the man was his own worst enemy, much like Buddy Landell was his own worst enemy back in the 1980s & 90s. If Eddie could somehow find the right place and right time, nothing could hold him back.

This seems like Eddie Kingston’s right place & time. He got a spot with AEW, and he kept getting over. His piece with The Player’s Tribune got him even more sympathy than he already had. The feud with CM Punk heading into Full Gear was perfect. It got Punk into the state people wanted him in. The match at Full Gear was great, even if Punk ended up winning. The only issue? The feud isn’t continuing. But that’s AEW. Feuds don’t last long unless they’re on BTE. Punk & King have already moved onto other things, and we can only hope they get back to each other in a year or two.

4. Bryan Danielson

I know that Bryan’s biggest run came when he was the underdog going against The Authority, and many folks took to him as that underdog. I was one of those guys that followed Bryan during his indy career, and his best run came when he was a total dickhead heel in Ring of Honor. Yeah, he was still short or whatever mainstream fans complained about at the time, but he could out-wrestle anybody put in the ring with him, and he was supremely confident about that fact. Not over-confident, supremely confident. He’d tell the referees the rules, because he was the Best in the World.

AEW fans are now getting that side of Bryan Danielson, and fortunately he has the right opponent to do it against. Hangman Adam Page has been accepted as a folk hero by hardcore AEW fans. They won’t turn against the Hangman for anybody, even when it’s really tempting since Bryan Danielson is a pretty amazing professional wrestler. One of the best I’ve seen! He’s getting to be a total dickhead again while he runs through Page’s Dark Order friends, and it’s amazing.

He’s not lying either. He wrestled the day after he won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania! Bryan Danielson has never lied. Maybe you don’t like what he says, but he’s always been honest. And the second he mentioned WrestleMania, those hardcore AEW fans were ready to jump on him. Bryan didn’t bury WWE like other folks that previously worked for them did. He had his reasons, and this was one of them.

3. The IInspiration

I was asked to be part of 411’s Fact or Fiction this week, since this week was decided to be the blowoff for a tournament from way too long ago where Len Archibald & myself made it to the finals. Bad news for me, as Len is much better with the written word than I am. 411 readers will sacrifice me at the temple of the Tribal Chief that is Len Archibald. I can’t blame them. One of the questions of this particular Fact or Fiction column asks us if underutilized people are better off getting released. Two of the most underutilized people in the history of WWE were Cassie Lee & Jessie McKay. WWE never knew what they had with them. Not the slightest idea. The only time they ever put them over was to spite Bayley & Sasha Banks for reasons. They never followed up on that because they didn’t care.

Cassie was supposed to be the breakout single star, except they never followed through with it. Jessie had the personality, and she had the look too but WWE did the best they could to take the look away from her. It was so weird. That’s why I’m so happy they found a place to let them be them. Impact Wrestling is a strange place. Certain people find their place there. The IInspiration seem to fit like a glove.

2. Dalton Castle

The Party Peacock was somebody that original Ring of Honor fans would have rejected in an instant. Some will try to tell me I’m wrong about that, but they in fact are wrong. The very first segment on “The Era of Honor Begins” featured the Christopher Street Connection getting squashed by Da Hit Squad because their sort of flamboyance wasn’t what ROH was going to be all about. It was 2002, a different time. I remember it well, as I graduated from high school. Way too many things have happened since then and I feel way too damn old.

Dalton Castle would not have been a favorite to original ROH fans in 2002. By the time he came around, he was just what the promotion needed. He had a personality the likes of which hadn’t been seen in pro wrestling for quite some time, which was great because the main knock against ROH was that their wrestlers didn’t have personality. Dalton Castle was ROH’s answer to that criticism. Unfortunately, Dalton’s body broke down at the same time he won the company’s World Championship. He fought through a broken back to have a reign worthy of the championship, but nearly killed himself in the process.

Castle wasn’t the same for a long time afterward. Only recently, we started to see shades of the old Dalton Castle. The man was revitalized by the promise of Television. He wanted to make Ring of Honor the best show on TV, even though he was a very busy man. Very busy. We’re lucky to see him when we do. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with him now that Ring of Honor is letting their people go. If he’s back to being the Dalton Castle we remember from a few years ago, the sky’s the limit. Any company would be lucky to have his talent & personality.

1. Cora Jade

I realize that I am in the minority of people around here when it comes to NXT 2.0. I can’t really say it’s a good wrestling show, but I do find it interesting. You have to know a little bit about my rasslin fan background. I ended up in Louisville during the time when Ohio Valley Wrestling was WWE’s developmental territory. While I never got the chance to attend a show at Davis Arena until years afterward, I enjoyed getting to watch the future stars of WWE on television learning their craft before they made it to Raw or SmackDown. Some were really good in the ring. Some were not. But it was all interesting to me.

Here in 2021, I have more interest in seeing the people that WWE thinks is going to be their future than seeing people I saw in Ring of Honor more than ten years ago having great matches just like they did in Ring of Honor more than ten years ago and having no chance of making it any bigger than “NXT TakeOver main eventer”. Which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing. Me…not so much.

I’m looking for the next big thing. Always have been, always will be. So when I take a look at Cora Jade, the youngest person under WWE contract, I see the potential. I see her work against Mandy Rose, who WWE wants to be the next big thing. I see Cora Jade get over, and I see the future, which is Cora Jade. People will try to tell me I’m wrong. They’ll be proven wrong eventually, but since they’re a lot louder, followers will act like the fools were right all along, even though they had the wrong opinions back in the day. That’s America for ya.


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News From Cook’s Corner 11.22.21: Happy Eggsgiving

A few shows, some big news, and some more releases. This week had everything! For better or worse… – and Cook gives you the lowdown!

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Hi, hello & welcome to News From Cook’s Corner! This is the week where we think about all of the things we’re thankful for. So I might actually do a Fave Five this week, considering the annual Thanksgiving column was the inspiration for the gimmick anyway! Gonna be a pretty busy week though, so we’ll see how that goes.

Before you gorge yourself on turkey, here’s the latest going on in the rasslin world…

More WWE Releases!

There’s a pretty good chance that this will become a regular section of the ol’ column. Eighty wrestlers have been released by WWE during 2021, with one (Samoa Joe. Remember him?) being rehired. Let’s put this in perspective for a minute, as looking at the numbers can explain a lot of what’s going on here.

Raw currently has forty-three wrestlers. SmackDown has thirty-six. NXT has forty-one male wrestlers & twenty-one female wrestlers. NXT UK has forty-three wrestlers. Wikipedia lists four wrestlers under 205 Live, six wrestlers as free agents, then twenty-two wrestlers as Performance Center trainees. If I had to guess, Wikipedia doesn’t have a complete list of Performance Center trainees, so we really have no idea how many people are still hiding there. I seem to recall Nick Khan talking about signing a bunch of people when he was doing that media tour around SummerSlam.

The point I’m trying to make is that WWE has a ton of people under contract and really doesn’t have that many spots. Most of those people listed under Raw & SmackDown haven’t done much of anything in quite some time. The NXT & NXT UK rosters are freaking immense, and NXT is where a lot of the recent cuts have come from. There are going to be more people coming in, therefore there will be more cuts. It’s just best to accept this now instead of getting all sad & depressed every time it happens over the next few months or however long we have before Nick Khan engineers a sale. Don’t spin this as me being happy about people getting canned, I’m just saying “it is what it is”.

So who was it this time?

A few of them were connected to the previous releases. John Morrison would be the longest tenured wrestler of this batch, considering his wife (known as Franky Monet on NXT & Taya Valkyrie elsewhere) was part of the last crop of releases this wasn’t as big of a surprise as one may think. Kind of a dick move from WWE since they’d just moved from California to Florida to facilitate her training at the Performance Center. Other people will have to learn from these events. Johnny has been more entertaining during his stints outside of WWE than he has been in WWE, so I think he’ll do just fine.

Remember when B-Fab was released and everybody thought it was kind of random to get rid of one of Hit Row’s members right after they debuted on SmackDown? Now they’re all gone. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott had been a featured act in NXT and was a top star in the indies before signing with WWE. Ashante thee Adnois was fairly new but had potential, and then there’s Top Dolla. This seems to come down to Top Dolla rubbing people the wrong way, including burying colleagues on social media & complaining to management about B-Fab’s dismissal.

It’s easy to understand why Top Dolla might have gotten a big head & thought his opinions mattered. He was featured on the Most Wanted Treasures show before ever appearing on NXT, so he was obviously a favorite of Paul Levesque’s. He also became the featured member of Hit Row upon their arrival on SmackDown, as his 6’5 330 pound frame played better with main roster decision makers than Swerve Scott’s lack of size. Dude moves pretty well for his size too, so there’s some potential there. Apparently he didn’t show enough potential to make up for whatever headaches he was causing, and the other two guys didn’t have enough appeal without him.

It’s tough, because I like it when people cause trouble backstage & stand up for themselves. Gives me more to write about here. However, I can’t recommend such things in today’s WWE. They’re looking for excuses to fire anybody. Oh, and I also wouldn’t recommend talking smack about the competition’s executive vice presidents like Top Dolla did either. Maybe it’ll impress Tony Khan, who knows.

Tegan Nox’s NXT tenure had more ups & downs than anybody else’s, I’d figure. Whenever she was about to get a push, she tore her knee up. They kept her around though, and finally moved her up to the main roster in July. She was placed in a team with Shotzi and they beat the Women’s Tag Team Champions multiple times, but never got a title shot. Then they got split in the draft, and Nox never even made an appearance on Raw. I don’t have any clue what happened other than somebody wasn’t impressed with Nox for some reason. Seemed like a solid talent to me, but I’m just a dork with a column.

Drake Maverick was released back in April 2020, but was kept around to work the NXT Cruiserweight Championship Tournament and ended up getting his job back due to popular appeal. Of course, he didn’t do a damn thing of note before getting released again, but I think we expected that. Got an extra year & a half of paychecks though, so there’s that. Seems like a nice bloke, he’ll land on his feet.

Shane Thorne disappeared from television once Retribution split up. He did a couple of dark matches recently with a Outback Jack-style Aussie gimmick, but nothing came of it. One would expect him to re-form the TMDK tag team with Mikey Nicholls at the earliest possible opportunity.

Jaxson Ryker was the final name of the list, and was another one that hadn’t done anything notable in awhile. He did outlast his fellow Forgotten Sons in the company, but did not outlast his tag team partner after that group split, Elias. Ryker got some heat back in 2020 when he tweeted political views that his boss agreed with, but it turns out that was the most attention he ever got while working for WWE. How bout that.

We’ll be back with more releases soon enough, I’m guessing. Again, we’re not celebrating these things, but we’re not going to act shocked either. As people have told me, it’s the wrestling “business”.

Did anything interesting happen at Survivor Series?

Becky Lynch beat Charlotte Flair by holding the ropes on a roll-up. In fairness, Charlotte tried to do it first. Also in fairness, it was the same referee that Charlotte took issue with and beat up back in April, so she probably should have seen it coming. Who says WWE doesn’t do long-term storytelling? Prior to the show, Fightful reported the match order, which had this as the main event and everything else in the reverse of which it happened. It’s a good thing Fightful got some egg on their face, as this sure wouldn’t have worked as the finish of the event.

Seth Rollins was the sole survivor in the Men’s Survivor Series Elimination Match, because he needed the win. Of note here was Austin Theory having a pretty long run in the match, Kevin Owens walking out on his team like he was Bad News Brown, and Drew McIntyre & Bobby Lashley doing a double countout spot because they didn’t need to lose.

Omos won the Rock 25th Anniversary battle royal, eliminating twelve people in the process. My takeaway from the match was they were trying to make Omos a star. Then I realized the the match was for Pizza Hut pizza, like how kids read books in school so they can win the Book It contest and get a class pizza party, I guess. I’m confused. How does The Rock feel about Pizza Hut? Never mind, one of the few things worse than political conversation is pizza conversation. If we go down this road we have to talk about pineapples and various cities’ styles of pizza, and I just don’t care about all that.

RK-Bro beat the Usos, and I think I’m the only person that doesn’t go completely crazy whenever Randy Orton does an RKO. We know he’s going to do it in a weird spot. It’s been a thing for like a decade now. Maybe I’m just jealous of these people that are able to react like they saw something for the first time evry time. In any event, Randy Orton has now wrestled more WWE PPV matches than anybody in the history of the universe.

Bianca Belair was the sole survivor of the Women’s Survivor Series Elimination Match. I thought the crowd was a little harsh, but it was a pretty sloppy piece of business & the booking was hella questionable. At least Bianca got to win.

Roman Reigns beat Big E to become the Universal Ultra Mega Champion of the Galaxy. Dude needs a few more nicknames so I’m trying to help him out. Big E got to do a big things, but we all knew what was going down here. Seems to hurt the drama factor to me. I may be wrong though, saw a bunch of people online calling it the best thing they ever saw. So what do I know?

The Rock didn’t show up. Apparently I was supposed to expect him to? People sure seemed mad about it.

The big tease for Monday night? Oh, this is one for the books. Vince McMahon got a Cleopatra Egg from The Rock, apparently part of his Netflix movie. Allegedly worth $100 million. Somebody stole it. All the WWE Superstars get to go to Raw tomorrow night so Adam Pearce can question them about it. If this doesn’t equal a record rating, I don’t know what will.

To answer my question of whether or not anything interesting happened at Survivor Series…I’d lean towards no, but it wasn’t an awful show or anything.

Kenny off of TripleMania Regia?

Kenny Omega might have lost his AEW & Impact Championships fairly recently, but he still has the AAA Megachampionship to his name. Omega was scheduled to defend that title against El Hijo del Vikingo at the upcoming TripleMania Regia event in Monterrey, but Dave Meltzer reports that the champion will be pulling out of the event due to upcoming surgeries.

Yep, surgeries. Kenny has a torn labrum, an abdominal hernia, a bad knee, and a septum issue as well. He’s been working through the pain for awhile now, and is expected to be out at least through February. Seriously though, if anybody deserves some time off it’s Kenny Omega. Dude has put the work in, whether you like him or not. It’ll also give him some added time to focus on the AEW video games division.

New Japan & NOAH Working Together

Last week in this column, I wondered why New Japan was holding three different Wrestle Kingdom events, including one in Yokohama on January 8 that didn’t have a fun IWGP Heavyweight Championship match announced for it yet. Turns out that the January 8 show will be a cross-promotional effort also involving Pro Wrestling NOAH. New Japan is reportedly planning on running a number of cross-promotional events in 2021 as part of celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary. DDT, All Japan & Dragon Gate have apparently talked with NJPW about participating.

These reports indicate to me that NJPW isn’t exactly bullish on the idea of borders being opened up anytime soon. It’s good news for Japanese wrestling fans though, and will help New Japan fill some cards. It’ll be fun to see Keiji Mutoh back in a New Japan ring, won’t it?

Well, that’s all we have time for this week. Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


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