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The old saying in the fight game goes like this – “Styles make fights.”
Ain’t that the truth? Is there anything better than a good scrap featuring polar opposite, but equally lethal skillsets? I’m talking an Incredible Hulk type power puncher against a relentless Mighty Mouse volume striker in boxing, or a lighting quick boxing machine against a twisted mat grappler in an MMA brawl. These are the types of fights that get people to enter their credit card information into a lineup of streaming services to insure their consumption of violent wonderment occurs.
Not all fights take place inside the ropes, though.
This week, Vince McMahon’s WWE and Tony Khan’s AEW traded left and rights to defend their respective turfs on Friday night. McMahon started the action by adding 30 minutes to Smackdown this week as the show pivots to FS1 thanks to the pesky MLB Playoffs. The added time to the show just so happens to overlap the start of AEW Rampage. The right hook stung Tony Khan who battled back with a crafty uppercut in the form of a special “Buy In” show on the AEW YouTube channel ahead of Rampage to compete head-to-head against the second hour Smackdown.
It’s like two kids in a sandbox stealing each other’s trucks I tell ya! Instead of kids, it’s rich billionaires and instead of trucks, it’s high stakes, million dollar gambits.
This fight between both companies will be fun to watch. Typically, competition brings out the best content possible and just after this recent flurry of punches, wrestling fans are getting a dream match between Bryan Danielson and Minoru Suzuki on this week’s “Buy In” as Tony Khan attempts to stunt Smackdown’s momentum before his second child, Rampage, hits the air on TNT.
What does the winner of this madness get? Well, a lucrative television deal, that’s what. So, let’s get it on! WWE and AEW are the fighters and the end game is to be the company that positions themselves best in the eyes of the goofballs at the TV networks, so they can collect checks with the most zeros on them. WWE and AEW’s fighting style to secure victory will be tremendously different in many ways.
WWE is the behemoth. They are a massive corporate juggernaut and without question the most successful wrestling promotion in history. WWE can hit from any angle. Licensing deals? There you go, world. Have at it — Toys, lunch boxes, mobile video games, and zombies taking over a wrestling match for a movie promotion, whatever. Just name it and the suits in WWE can make it happen.
WWE has history on their side. The company has years and years of matches, moments, characters, and memories embedded into the brains of generations of fans that they can tap to generate interest and content. Thus, say hello to the A&E Biography series they helped produce, or the various documentary pieces that fill up the WWE channel on Peacock each month. WWE can leverage the nostalgia of their past and drive revenue with it.
And oh yeah, the archival footage – how can we forget that. WWE has a library that they can manipulate and break into however many pieces they need to in order to generate the most coin possible. Right now, NBC Universal has it all. What’s stopping WWE from shopping the WrestleMania brand somewhere, Summerslam somewhere else, and the Royal Rumble somewhere else? Nothing.
WWE has levers to pull. Lots of them. That’s their pitch. Their knockout shot.
AEW brings the passion. That’s their style. What they lack in terms of a volume of levers to pull, they make up for in the form of the biggest lever in the room – fan passion. The AEW audience loves the product and it’s a love that’s not surprising due to the fact that it was their passion that breathed life into the AEW idea to begin with.
AEW fills a void in the pro wrestling ecosystem right now. To continue growing after the Monday Night Wars, WWE sacrificed their audience’s passion for the love of adoring executives waving thick checks at them. As WWE puffed up like a late 80s Hulk Hogan with sponsorships, rights deals, licensing, and other corporate shenanigans built on the backs of the audience love they catered to for so many years, they left it behind, leaving fans looking for a place to go.
Enter Tony Khan. Khan, with huge dollars, is filling the gaps that WWE has strategically neglected. He’s pushing men and women who get over, leaning into matches with winners and losers, and allowing wrestling to be wrestling instead of a Disney-esque corporate vision. The result is a rabid environment at shows that come across as the coolest party in town. The party that other major wrestling stars like C.M. Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Adam Cole would rather be at. The party that mainstream outsiders like Shaq, Jorge Masvidal, Snoop Dogg, and Mike Tyson want to be at as well.
AEW has an “it” factor. They’re hot. That’s their pitch. Their knockout shot.
That’s a fun fight. Which one wins? Pssh. You got me. Longevity, tradition, and safety are unquestionably valuable, even if that comes at the expense of a watered down product that turns fans and top talent away. The proof is in the pudding and WWE is winning with their formula as a billion dollar company. How many fans and talent leave? It’s an important factor because AEW is waiting with open arms and a crack riddled product that its core fan base can’t get enough of. Is that enough for the TV people with money? Maybe.
Bottom line? The fight is on. The fight is on, styles make fights, and WWE vs. AEW is a stylistic gem.