Wrestling
The rivalry between WWE and AEW has fans looking back on the fall of WCW. (Illustration by Simon Wang, Case Western Reserve University)

A New War Is Being Waged on Wednesday Night’s Professional Wrestling

The debut of a new wrestling show has sparked a ratings war with WWE.

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Wrestling

The debut of a new wrestling show has sparked a ratings war with WWE.

On March 23, 2001, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) closed its doors for good. That same day, the defunct company was purchased by its competitor, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). There are many instances that wrestling fans will point to as the the day wrestling died, and that is one of them.

The closing of WCW sent shockwaves through the wrestling industry, as many of its former employees wound up working for the WWF as a part of their roster. Since that day, the wrestling industry has changed greatly as professional wrestling is nowhere near as popular as it once was, while the internet has made the sport more accessible than ever for those that still enjoy it.

Something else that changed is the fact that there are now several wrestling shows currently vying for viewers on a weekly basis. One of the moments that led to the demise of WCW was its cancelation by TNT affiliate channel TBS. TBS spokesman at the time, Jim Weiss, said the following: “Basically, we’ve decided that professional wrestling, in its current incarnation, is not consistent with the upscale brands we’ve built at TNT and TBS. Therefore, we will not be carrying it.”

Without a rival to compete with, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has become arrogant with how they put on their shows. They aren’t worried about the quality of what they produce because the fans that complain will continue to watch the show. There were, and still are, other wrestling companies that exist such as Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling, but they just can’t compete with WWE.

Even though they consistently receive low ratings, WWE is still the top wrestling company. That is, unless All Elite Wrestling (AEW) continues to constantly beat them in ratings. AEW was launched in January 2019 with billionaire Tony Khan as its president and wrestlers Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson, Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes serving as co-executive vice presidents.

The story of AEW is intertwined with WCW. Rhodes’ own father, legendary wrestler Dusty Rhodes, worked for WCW as both a wrestler and in a backstage role before returning to WWE. Cody eventually worked for WWE as a wrestler for almost a decade before leaving the company in 2016. As mentioned earlier, TNT canceled WCW because they didn’t think that it still fit in with their network.

It would appear this is no longer true as AEW currently airs their television show “All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite” on Wednesday nights on TNT, making it the first time that wrestling has aired on the network in 18 years. This isn’t the only milestone being celebrated by AEW. The premiere of Dynamite is currently the biggest premiere on the network in five years.

In a statement that sounds very different to TNT’s reasoning for canceling WCW in 2001, Kevin Reilly, the president of TNT, TBS and truTV, said, “This is a league that, at its core, is created by wrestlers for wrestling fans, and I am incredibly energized by the enthusiastic embrace the fans have given to the AEW talent and experience. AEW won the night with a high quality, incredibly engaging, sports-centric show that will continue with a seamless partnership between AEW and TNT.”

What is even more impressive about Dynamite’s debut is the fact that it was able to beat WWE in the ratings with 1.409 million viewers, while “WWE NXT” had 891,000 viewers. As a response to the announcement that AEW would have a show on TNT, WWE announced that their show “WWE NXT” would switch from one hour to two hours and begin airing live on the USA network starting on Sept. 18, two weeks before Dynamite premiered on TNT.

Honestly, this was a petty move by WWE, but not surprising as WWE CEO, Vince McMahon, previously bashed AEW during an investors’ earnings call when he said, “We’re not gonna do blood and guts and things of that nature, such as being done on perhaps a new potential competitor.”

It seems like WWE dislikes AEW, but that does not appear to be true as they released a statement following AEW’s television debut that states: “Congratulations to AEW on a successful premiere. The real winners of last night’s head-to-head telecasts of ‘NXT’ on USA Network and AEW on TNT are the fans, who can expect Wednesday nights to be a competitive and wild ride as this is a marathon, not a one-night sprint.”

Competition is exactly what is needed in the wrestling industry now. WCW and WWE were always trying to one-up each other since they had shows airing on the same night at the same time. At one point WCW was beating WWE in ratings for 84 weeks in a row. As a result of this, WWE was forced to improve their show “Monday Night Raw” and give viewers a reason to watch it over “WCW Monday Nitro.”

Eventually they did, and WCW was never able to beat them in ratings ever again. AEW may have chance to do the same thing to WWE since they managed to beat WWE ratings again two weeks in a row. Sadly, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon as “NXT” is not the only show WWE airs.

On Monday nights on USA, “WWE Raw” airs, while on Friday nights on Fox, “WWE Smackdown” airs. Both shows get higher ratings than AEW combined since they have been around for so long. Smackdown just debuted on Fox on Oct. 4 and had a rating of around 4 million viewers while Raw managed to get 2.334 million viewers.

The best thing for AEW to do right now is to back up what they have been promising since their creation in January: become an alternative to WWE. The blood and guts McMahon referred in that investors call is one of the things that helps AEW set itself apart from the typically family-friendly and PG-rated WWE shows.

Where else will you see a guy use a skateboard with thumbtacks glued to it as a weapon? Certainly not on Raw or Smackdown. If AEW can focus on being an alternative, then I have no doubt that it can avoid the same fate as WCW.

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