Wrestling Night in America Reunion: PWTorch columnist Greg Parks is joined by former PWTorch columnist Pat McNeill for a full match-by-match preview of WrestleMania 36
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Heading into AEW’s second show, Fyter Fest, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to decode the intentions that Tony Khan, Cody, Kenny Omega, and The Young Bucks had for the event. The goal was simple and spot on. Deliver a show that was built off of the foundation that Double Or Nothing set and feature that show for free to unlock the AEW brand for new fans desperate to jump on the hype train. For the first time ever, a new audience not rooted in and passionate about the success of AEW, but pivotal to that goal, would get their eyes on the product. It’s pro wrestling business 101 in almost every way. Especially with AEW’s second PPV event, All Out, on the horizon at the end of August.
Though the Fyter Fest card screamed “B-show,” the stakes surrounding the business ramifications of it were significant. Outside of the debacle that was the pre-show “Buy In,” the main show progressed nicely out of the gate and delivered a taste of AEW to new fans watching on Bleacher Report Live. Christopher Daniels against CIMA was a quick, but solid opener. The women of AEW told a successful David vs. Goliath story that lived within the confines of unique in-ring spots, and the virgin AEW viewers were treated to mainstay talent like Adam Page and MJF – future stars of the company. Seemingly, all was well, until it wasn’t. All thanks to a poorly timed, out of touch, and imbecilic chair shot to the unprotected head of Cody.
The shot hurt Cody and left staples as a cruel reminder, but the business fallout may be even more painful. Potential AEW fans aren’t starved for more chair shot debauchery. For those that want that type of wrestling, it’s out there and always has been. AEW needs to curate their new audience by running against that grain. Not backwards toward it. They present themselves as the in-touch alternative rooted in storytelling, creativity, consistency, competition, and athleticism. On a night with important new eyes on them, the optics behind green-lighting the Cody chair shot are shockingly counterproductive to that presentation.
Why? Chair shots to the head are out of touch in 2019 due to the educated narrative surrounding head injuries. As AEW attempts to be in-touch and socially ahead of the curve, this spot wasn’t. It’s an ode to shock and awe pro wrestling that had it’s uneducated day 20 years ago. What’s creative about the spot? My neighbor and I could bash each other in the head with chairs in the garage and get the same stunned reaction from a small YouTube audience. Deserved eye rolls would come with it too. Athleticism? Any oaf can swing a chair. The irony here is that within their match, Darby Allin and Cody told a story that encapsulated what AEW is about. It was a clash of styles that unexpectedly went the distance and made a potential new star at the same time. Crazed Allin bumps aside, the artistry within the match is and should be why people flock to this company for their wrestling fix. Is anyone talking about it? After the chair shot? No.
Cody should know better. It hurt his match, hurt Allin, and raised eyebrows amongst new fans for the wrong reasons. He’s an executive of the company and because of previous competitive antics, has made himself into an alpha figurehead for the world to watch. People do, which ads a layer of responsibility to the role. Cody’s a premiere performer as well. He doesn’t need manufactured, washed up brutality to get the job done in the ring.
Gimmicked or not, chair shots to the head aren’t cool. They aren’t edgy. They don’t authenticate pro wrestling and they aren’t the alternative that potential AEW fans are looking for in their wrestling in 2019. Audiences understand the devastation that comes along with blows to the head. Because of that, fans view those types of spots as spots outside the acceptable boundaries of storytelling due to the danger involved. It’s 2019. Tell the story in a different way. Instead of enhancing and growing a narrative between characters, moments like Saturday night immediately pluck fans out of the reality being created on the show and drop them into the real reality surrounding wrestling in which people can get seriously hurt. Who wants to watch that? Nobody.
Alright, “nobody,” is a bit over dramatic. Nobody that matters to AEW. The concerning question for them is, what did the new audience think of it all? They matter. Will they buy AEW’s sales pitch after seeing what they did? Time will tell. AEW has hit base hit after base hit after base hit since the company was announced at the start 2019. On Saturday night with fresh eyes watching for the first time, they swung at an awful pitch and missed for strike one. They’re not out, but they were undisciplined and got caught being something they’re not. Two strikes still remain and accountability is key. If Cody is unable or unwilling to adapt his style for the benefit of the company he helped define, others like Khan, Omega, and the Bucks must step in and make him. Not just in an effort to keep wrestlers safe, but in an effort to maintain core company values while cultivating a new audience with a product they can watch guilt-free and be proud of.
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