Mark Madden: AEW gives wrestling industry a jolt
BALTIMORE — Less people are watching pro wrestling than ever. But those still viewing spend more money on it than ever.
That’s why more and more wrestling programming gets crammed on network and cable television. WWE is on USA on Monday. Impact is on AXS on Tuesday. On Wednesday, All Elite Wrestling is on TNT while NXT is on USA. WWE is on Fox on Friday. Ring of Honor airs on various Sinclair Broadcast Group stations. The WWE Network is available on-line ‘round the clock, and there’s always YouTube.
It’s also why, as a color commentator during now-defunct World Championship Wrestling’s worst year of programming ever in 2000, I find myself in Baltimore at the fourth Starrcast wrestling fan fest.
Starrcast (loosely affiliated with AEW) is the brainchild of mortgage broker/wrestling podcast overlord Conrad Thompson. The Alabaman owns several Ric Flair robes and is married to Flair’s oldest daughter.
I’m a Flair fan (and friend), but I can’t top that.
For the right price, attendees at Starrcast IV can meet performers who embarrassed WCW almost as much as I did: The Shockmaster, The Yeti and The Ding-Dongs.
There are a bunch of legit big-timers, too, including personal favorites Sting, Great Muta, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger and Ricky Steamboat. There’s a healthy dollop of AEW stars, too, but not #LeChampion, Chris Jericho. Not all greatness is for sale.
If just meeting and greeting isn’t enough, Fite TV will be streaming various panel discussions and interviews. For instance, I will be interviewing Great Muta, a Japanese wrestling legend who sporadically worked at WCW.
I’m a bit intimidated. Muta is a true all-time great. I’m not sure how much English he speaks, or wants to. When I was on air at WCW, Muta spit his deadly (and cliched) green mist in my eyes. I no-sold it as instructed by creative. I hope he forgot that.
But I’m thrilled to be at Starrcast (my third). Wrestling is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I’m on a team, and I’ve maintained good relationships with many of my co-workers from WCW. (That said, Sting still refers to me as his “old nemesis.” I had some skirmishes with Diamond Dallas Page back when, but we made nice at the last Starrcast. I will always call him “DDMe,” however.)
In the green room at Starrcast III, which was in Chicago, I was shooting the breeze with Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Scott Hall and Mick Foley. What could be better?
It’s exciting to absorb the electricity of AEW, which has provided a good product since premiering on TNT on Oct 2. AEW and NXT are recreating (kind of) the Monday night wrestling war of the ’90s. AEW is winning but, most importantly, is the first wrestling promotion in ages to make inroads among younger demographics.
That’s in sharp contrast to WWE, whose average TV viewer is somewhere between 50 and dead.
I’ve often wondered if wrestling will die before I do. (If so, it had better hurry.) With so many entertainment options and the stale nature of WWE, it’s not impossible to imagine that company going the way of roller derby once Vince McMahon passes. Then again, maybe a different final say is exactly what’s required.
AEW offers hope, or at least something fresh. The interviews are not scripted. The announcers are not constantly instructed over the headsets. Both nuances are in pointed contrast to WWE, and quite noticeable to the viewer. The feel is more immediate.
Here are a few other things to like about AEW:
• Jericho is the best all-around performer in wrestling. His microphone work is without peer. He controls the crowd, not vice-versa.
• The announce team of Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone and Excalibur is top-shelf. Ross is No. 1 all-time at what he does by acclamation. But Schiavone was never far behind. AEW is Schiavone’s first major TV exposure since WCW disappeared in 2001. He deserves the praise he’s getting (and always should have gotten). Schiavone is top three all-time along with Ross and Memphis legend Lance Russell.
• Cody is proving he’s a main eventer. Always could have been. His father Dusty Rhodes would be proud. He’d also tell Cody it’s harder to stay on top than it is to get there.
• AEW has good young talent that isn’t recycled. The last thing AEW needs moving forward is WWE rejects. Sammy Guevara (26), Adam Page (28) and MJF (23) are talented performers and, just as important, fans haven’t seen them on TV before.
It’s great to be around wrestling again.
It’s also great to get paid to be around wrestling again. I learned that much during eight years with WCW.