Remember New Japan Pro Wrestling? Remember Ring of Honor? Remember Impact Wrestling? ‘Member? Yeah, I ‘member, too. It wasn’t all that long ago that so many professional wrestling fans swarmed New York City to overwhelm themselves with professional wrestling. Yes, WrestleMania & NXT: TakeOver is cool, but what makes WrestleMania Weekend (trademark?) extremely cool is that everybody gets in on the action. If sitting around for seven-effing hours for a Very OK Wrestling Show isn’t your thing, you have a multitude of other options at your disposal. As a professional wrestling extremely bored with the WWE product at the moment, just having stark contrasts to the former’s product is a delight -- yes, diversity? Actually good. One of the biggest reasons that NXT works, especially at TakeOver events, is because of the stark contrast to the main product in length, characters and feel.
That’s what makes AEW putting on their first Pay-Per-View Double Or Nothing tonight so exciting -- you don’t know if it’ll be good but you know it will be different. You know you won’t feel like you normally do when you sit through a standard, forgettable WWE Network special. All In last year was a perfectly fine appetizer, but Double Or Nothing is the main course. There are stakes. There are cancelled matches. There are mystery debuts on the horizon. Double Or Nothing could signal the start of something special -- a real, consistent alternative to a WWE product that has never been more unorganized and more lifeless.
Timing is a funny thing like that -- had AEW put on their first show later this summer around SummerSlam, it may have found itself lost in the pro-wrestling shuffle. As bad as the current product is in WWE right now, fans inevitably find themselves drawn back into the company around this time because of how good SummerSlam and NXT: TakeOvers typically are. Instead, this event happens when WWE ratings are plummeting, the USA Network is reportedly pitching bad idea after bad idea to the WWE, and the introduction of a “Wild Card” rule that ensures quality control on creative is an impossible feat. Not to mention, the bizarre obsession with keeping Shane McMahon strong, building both shows around whatever Roman Reigns is doing, and having young stars like Ricochet lose clean to the likes of Baron Corbin. (Hey, at least the company allowed The Revival to do what The Revival actually does well this week on RAW -- you know, have fun, long tag-team matches. Baby steps.)
This rut that the WWE has found themselves in especially ill-timed because it lowers the bar for AEW in just how competent the company needs to be right away. It should be a disaster that PAC vs. Adam “Hangman” Page was cancelled at the last minute for creative differences, but it’s not. It’s not because fans still expect Cody Rhodes and friends to figure something else out that maybe end up being better than the original plan. Pro wrestling fans don’t give Vince McMahon and the WWE that same benefit of the doubt because they have seen this movie before and they know it sucks. It would be like any moviegoer purchasing a ticket for another Michael Bay movie because some part of them thinks, “Hey, maybe this is the Transformers sequel that wins him an Oscar.” People don’t do that because people know that that is not going to happen. You can talk yourself into Cody and the Young Bucks figuring it out, but you can’t talk yourself into Vince McMahon in the year 2019 figuring it out, because, man, how many Lars Sullivan-type pushes and idiotic name-changes is it going to take before you admit that maybe this guy sucks at this creative stuff now.
This doesn’t mean that Cody and the Young Bucks will figure it out. This doesn’t mean AEW will end up being a better product than the WWE. They may talk themselves into Now Shawn Spears And Not Tye Dillinger as a pro wrestler worthy of a serious push. They may actually allow Jim Ross to hire his old friend Jerry Lawler. They may sign Jon Moxley and focus on his extremely boring and extremely repetitive match-types. As exciting as it is that this company has the financial backing ostensibly necessary to become a real challenger to the WWE one day, we don’t know what kind of owners the Khan family might be. We don’t know how involved WarnerMedia will be on the creative front for their weekly television show. We don’t know if they will be able to sign enough entertaining men and women to maintain a healthy television rating each week. We simply don’t know how this is going to go for AEW, but isn’t that what makes this so fun? For the WWE, they will always be “fine” but they will never be anything more. They don’t need to be because of their revenue stream, because of their social-media success, and so many other frustrating reasons. Creative can suck and Vince can still record record profits. Creative can’t suck for the Khans and Cody and the Young Bucks because that is where they have to excel at to really compete with the WWE -- be short and good, while the WWE is long and bleh.
It’s really that simple. If tonight’s PPV goes for 2 hours or so. Home run. If tonight’s PPV goes for 4 hours. God damn it. The WWE won the Content Wars a long time ago. (Who isn’t stocked for NXT: Australia, BABY?!) This show should end with its audience walking to their cars wishing it was longer. Wishing they got to see more. Wishing they knew where things were headed. We know the in-ring work tonight will deliver, but we don’t know if it will be too much. If this company prioritizes time in a way for fans that only Greg Maddux could appreciate, they’ll already be ahead of the curve. If every shows feels like an hour of Game Of Thrones where the hour flies by and you are bummed you won’t get to see your favorite characters again for a while, you’ve won. Less is more.
That’s all I’m hoping for tonight. To not find myself checking my phone. To not find myself looking for an excuse to go out. To just be completely invested in the moment and to be completely and utterly dismayed when the moment is gone.
No pressure, though.