This week is a mixture of two fairly opposite things. First of all, I was out for my walk tonight with my music on and the theme from Friday Night Lights came on (excellent show if you’ve never seen it). That got me thinking about last Friday, when AEW and WWE went head to head (or at least close enough to it), giving us a bit of the old Monday Night Wars (on Friday, minus the war) vibe.
At the same time, my wife’s *CENSORED*th birthday is this coming Saturday, which had me thinking about the things that have happened over the course of her life. Since I can’t go that long without thinking about wrestling, I started to combine the two ideas and started wondering something: how many fans have never seen WWE with anything close to wrestling competition before?
I’m thirty three years old and the Monday Night Wars began when I was seven. Now given that I have yet to miss an episode of Monday Night Raw and never missed an episode of Monday Nitro, I remember the Monday Night Wars fairly well. Someone as young as twenty five years old certainly wouldn’t though, which makes this all the more interesting for a pretty large group of fans.
For an entire generation of fans, we are in a whole new world. Save for the disaster that was the short amount of time when Impact Wrestling thought moving to Mondays was a good idea, the battle between NXT and AEW was the first time ever that any fans in their mid-20s and younger had ever seen anyone go up against WWE. This is a brand new way of doing things and it is easy to see why it is so exciting (for younger and older fans as well).
Let’s say you’re one of those younger fans (and you very well may be). After spending your entire life seeing WWE running roughshod over everything and no one coming close to touching it, AEW is this brand new beast on the scene who is suddenly making a lot of noise. This isn’t like WCW suddenly getting it together in the 1990s and overtaking the WWF after being around for the better part of ever. This is something brand new that you have never seen, or really even thought was possible. How cool must that feel to see for the first time?
Since this is something that the younger fans have never seen, there is nothing to compare it to. Those fans have probably heard about the Monday Night Wars (odds are WWE has released a new documentary about it since you started reading this) but they don’t know what it felt like to be there. They don’t remember what it felt like to have two companies doing everything they could to beat the other, which made things a lot more exciting in a lot of ways (though there were roughly 183 other factors that made the whole era work, which is another story for another time).
Without the memories of the good things aren’t there, the negative feelings are missing as well. What we are seeing today is not quite at the level of the Monday Night Wars, as the two main shows have yet to go head to head (and they likely won’t for a very long time to come). Instead, we are seeing more of a mild skirmish, but since there is nothing to compare it to, it can’t seem weaker by comparison.
What matters here is that a large group of fans is getting to experience something new and that is a great thing. The Monday Night Wars were an exciting time, full of great action, memorable moments, and companies doing a variety of boneheaded things. It made the shows that much more interesting to watch and fans were getting to go along for the ride every single week. That is a feeling that has not been around for over twenty years, but we were seeing it again last week.
You had one company deciding to run an extra half hour, which led to the other countering by adding an extra hour to their show (ignore the fact that AEW’s special show aired online, meaning you could easily watch that and SmackDown at the same time, meaning it could have easily had next to no impact on SmackDown), which led to both shows deciding to make stretches of their shows commercial free (thereby making life very hard for someone trying to write out a review of the show in real time).
The other thing that makes this different is how minor it really was. This wasn’t a company changing the nights of its major television show. Instead, we had one company add an extra hour onto its secondary show (again, online, where you could watch it and SmackDown at the same time without much trouble) for one night only while another company extended one of its shows by half an hour. It isn’t something that is going to happen every week, but look at how much interest there has been over what amounted to half an hour of “pick this or that” coverage.
It shows you just how starved fans are for something else. You can argue WWE’s quality all you want (they have problems, but it isn’t as bad as it is often made out to be) but it does seem like there is a large group of fans who just want something else. Maybe that is because they don’t like WWE’s style or they just want another option to choose from, but this seems to be the new reality and it is not something that seems likely to go away anytime soon.
After all this time, it felt like we were finally seeing a change. Maybe not a changing of the guard or anything close to it, but some kind of a change that is long overdue. If nothing else, it was nice to feel like you had some options. That has been what AEW has felt like all along, and now that alternative is starting to feel like it is here to stay rather than a company that has been successful in the short term. It’s a feeling that might not last forever (though it could for a long time or even longer), but it is very nice to have around at the time being.
While it isn’t something I would want to see every single week (the jumping back and forth gets annoying in a hurry), it is great to see that we have reached this point again. That is something I did not thing we would be seeing anytime soon but AEW has risen up in just a few years to change the wrestling world. AEW has a long way to go to truly catch WWE (and they may never get there) but they have done something that no one else has really come close to doing in a very long time: make WWE sit up and actually take notice for a change.
What mattered most of all of this though was a feeling of fun and excitement that has been missing for so long. This is something that has not happened between two promotions in a very long time and it is nice to have it back for a change. It felt like something new and exciting was happening after all those years of WWE dwarfing everyone else. AEW is shaking things up in a way that we have not approached since around 1999 and that is long overdue. I have no idea how far AEW is going to go or how successful they are going to be, but at least they have given us some extra interest, because we have not seen that in many a Friday night.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 60,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 6,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books.
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